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Dec 12 15 3:28 AM
It does not take parents very long to realize that they teach their children not so much by what they say as by who they are. Their presence, their choices, their lives, their being speak to their children in the deepest way. The same can be said of true educators, whose teaching reaches beyond technical expertise. One year into the papacy of Benedict XVI, I realize that I am learning something about my life as a Catholic Christian from the way Benedict is living his life as pope. I note the influence of three of Benedict’s choices on my own."What’s in a name?" muses Shakespeare. A great deal. Naming is one of the first human decisions we encounter in the biblical narratives, as Adam names the living world around him (Gen 2:19-20). Parents usually take great care in the naming of their children, choosing a hero (religious or secular) or a revered grandparent. At the time of confirmation a young person chooses a saint’s name, a distinctively personal act. So when Joseph Ratzinger, newly elected as pope, announced that he would be known to the church and the world as Benedict XVI, I, like many of my colleagues, did some quick research. An early assumption was that his choice was to connect him explicitly with Pope Benedict XV, who was known for his dedication to world peace and to the works of charity. The previous 14 Benedicts had among their number several popes who are best left buried in the dusty pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica. When Benedict XVI himself cleared up the matter with references to St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism, things began to fall into place for me. Our Benedict was associating himself with the Rule of Saint Benedict, that brief, simple, brilliant template for living a balanced life in community.Years ago with a household full of young children, trying to be a responsible citizen of society and church, wondering how I could find space for study and intellectual searching, I was introduced to the Rule. Eventually I wrote a book about its application to family life: about intimacy and solitude, prayer and play, work and study, authority and hospitality. I called this application The Ordinary Way because it seemed so full of common sense, so doable, since the content is the stuff of everyday life. Parents, for example, have to exercise authority for the good of all, but how it is done is critical. There is a different quality when all the members of the family are consulted, even the youngest, about decisions that affect all. That is what the Rule directs the abbot to do. And finding ways to incorporate solitude and prayer into the busyness of family proved to be a lifeline.But households change. Children grow up, a spouse dies and professional responsibilities fill up one’s time. Some habits from an earlier time perdure, it is true, but the balance embedded in the Rule can subtly, imperceptibly fade. The 21st-century Pope Benedict’s choice of a name, however, has brought the wisdom of this timeless document to the forefront of my consciousness once more. Work alone is not what St. Benedict had in mind; a centered life requires more. And so again the Rule is reminding me of what balance looks like.Mozart, Order and PerfectionBenedict XVI is also teaching me some needed lessons through the intervention of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Since 2006 is the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, and in pursuit of a more balanced life, I began to practice with some regularity the few piano sonatas I have learned along the way. But I soon ran into a problem. The sonatas are long, very long. I judged Mozart needlessly repetitious, so I devised a method of getting to the end in a reasonable piece of time. Play the first repetition or part of it, and then skip to the next movement. My goal was to get to the end of the sonata, no matter what. Then I read about Pope Benedict’s piano routine. At the end of the day he has a glass of Orangina and plays Mozart for a half hour. This apparently is part of his own rule, an organizing principle perhaps.As I thought about this I had a flashback to those earlier years with a full household and how at 5 p.m. I played a Mozart record while entering into the dinner preparation mode. I once asked my husband why he thought I did that, and his response was simple and true: order. Mozart brought order into my life. Was I now upsetting Mozart’s order? I began to think about reading a play aloud and deliberately not reading what the author wrote. I wouldn’t do that. But here I was skipping over sections of a sonata, not stopping to consider what was being lost. I was pretty sure the pope would not do that, but then again I was sure he is a lot more skillful than I. Then came this interior dialogue.Wouldn’t you like to play one measure perfectly, or nearly so? Maybe.I’m sure Benedict stops to correct. Everybody makes mistakes. Hmmm.That’s the point.Since this dialogue, I have tried to be attentive to the continuing inner word. When I do this, I discover a level of satisfaction that doesn’t come from skipping through the music. The practicing itself is an entry into what St. Ignatius Loyola called savoring. It is being all there, uncorking the delectable in the music. It is being respectful of what Mozart meant.So Benedict and Mozart, unknowingly, are teaching me something about life, about my life. They are pointing out my propensity to make excuses (the sonatas are too long), to be satisfied too often with less than excellence, to slide into inattention. But they are showing me a corrective as well. I do not have to do everything, like finish this sonata today. I can, however, do something as well as I can this day, some little thing in the spirit of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. One musical measure can be full of grace.Love’s BlessingThat Benedict chose to write about love in his first encyclical is completely in tune with the Rule, which is really about ways to grow in the love of Christ. Deus Caritas Est has given me much to mull over as I begin to realize how the particular love of my marriage, a marriage ended by death, is opening me to larger ways of loving. Much of that larger way I learned from my husband, whose commitment to social justice was located in philia.He saw real people behind the formulae and mortgages and governance needed for affordable housing. These so-called strangers were in some way his friends. So as I ponder the many faces of love, Benedict has shed some light on my own experience. I know firsthand that eros does not evaporate with the physical absence of one’s particular love. It continues to remind us of the joy of being alive within another reality, what seemed to me at first to be communio. Or is it agape? I don’t know. In any case Benedict writes that eros and agape can never be separated. I find that enormously consoling.There has been some critique of Benedict’s treatment of social justice in Deus Caritas Est, particularly in terms of what is not there, with the unintended consequence of diverting believers’ energy from righting wrongs in our societal structures. (See, for example, Thomas J. Massaro, S.J., in America, 3/13.) I suppose that is a possibility. But when I look around my own community, Arlington, Va., an eight-minute drive to the White House, I see activist believers from many different churches who engage tirelessly with national issues as well as with concerns of our own urban village. Because of them Arlington has in place a living-wage law. The local government is responsive to affordable housing needs as an active partner with several nonprofit organizations. There is a free medical clinic one block from my home. Arlington has outreach workers to help with jobs and job training. Our citizens are watchful, caring and tireless.Yet this major commitment to justice for all in our community and for creating governmental systems to address the problems is not enough. Every evening in my neighborhood park, the homeless of Arlington are fed from the back of a station wagon. A coalition of Christian churches enacts this work of mercy because, for whatever reasons, there are still people who remain on the streets. Across from that park is St. George’s Episcopal Church, where for 30 years a food pantry has operated. It is like a small grocery store. Five days a week, for two hours at midday, clients come for a supply of easily prepared food. I’ve been volunteering there once a month for the past year and a half. Last week I witnessed something new. A man collected his canned goods and then turned to my volunteer partner, who was standing by the door. He looked at us and said, I need something else. I need a blessing. Raima and I, two lay women (she a member of St. George’s and I a Catholic) paused. Then Raima asked him what kind of blessing he needed. I need courage and strength, he replied. Raima took his hands as two other clients stood perfectly still, sensing something different was at hand. I closed my eyes while prayer poured out of Raima for this imago Dei. He thanked her, he thanked me and quietly left, and we went on with our duties.Raima and I talked about the blessing as we closed the pantry for the day. We noted that religious conversation rarely, if ever, occurs. She said she had never blessed anyone before. No matter. I witnessed that day caritas in action made possible by a humble openness to the Spirit. It reminded me that we all need blessings. I have a home, food, friends, meaningful work, a close and loving family, health. And yet, like that man, I too need something else. What might that be? Love is the lightand in the end the only light...that can give us the courage needed to keep living and working, writes Benedict (No. 39). Courage, indeed. I believe that. I also believe that St. Paul is dead right. Love never ends, and, as Benedict points out, it is all encompassing, from eros to agape.Clearly what I am learning from Pope Benedict XVI is deeply personal. Yet the most personal encounters can and do move one from particular concrete experience to universal truth. It happens in poetry, in narrative theology and quintessentially in the Eucharist. And it happens in the witness of life, whether that be a pope’s life or that of a man without a home.
Dec 29 15 4:56 PM
Pope Benedict XVI has during his visit to Germany rejected the idea that the Church must have worldly power. What matters are not one's worldly actions but one's faith before God. The pope's mission is the complete separation of church and state.Pundits expected it, and the protestant church expected it as well. But it never came: The vocal commitment to ecumenical Christianity. Yet it should have been clear that the pope himself personified that commitment. As a theologian who hails from the country of Martin Luther, Joseph Ratzinger is not immune to the influence that his 16th century colleague had on Christianity.He frequently draws on Luther's dissident thoughts in his sermons and during the speech he gave in Freiburg in Southern Germany. Only through honest faith can we experience God, Luther said. One's actions are less important than one's beliefs. Benedict XVI agrees: Ecclesiastical assemblies, charity work, reflections on the world and on man are useless if the Church fails to put Jesus Christ in the center of its mission.Luther desired to know "what driveth Christ," and he sought to make that drive the cornerstone of Christian life. The pope thinks similarly: The Church must give up its worldly privileges. Benedict XVI has repeatedly criticized the German church tax that diminishes membership in the community of Christ to a monthly payment. It must de-materialize itself. The consequence, according to the pope, would be an increased commitment to its true mission, uncorrupted by power struggles.Seen in that light, the rhetoric of Benedict reminds us of Francis of Assisi. The mendicant monk saved the medieval Church -- and the papacy, which was at the time mainly preoccupied with indulgence, whores and intrigue -- with his reforms. Francis reformed the church, just as Luther did. But he also managed to maintain unity with Rome.Unity is the ultimate glue of the Christian church, and it has since gone missing. The call of dissident organizations like "We Are The Church" are misguided, for they call on Christians around the world to risk breaking off relations with Rome. It must be resisted. The Church is global, its community is upheld by the bishops, who constitute God's people along with all their christened believers. The pope is their primus inter pares. Together with the bishops, he guides the Church forward.Benedict XVI not only wants to make the Catholic Church less worldly, he also wants to remove it from politics. In that regard he differs significantly from his predecessor John Paul II. Politics and religion, church and state are separate for him. It is no coincidence that he explicitly stressed the separation of church and state as one of the landmark achievements of European history during his speech before the German parliament.Whether the rescue mission is to be driven by liberal or conservative forces, the pope does not say. Time will tell, and a careful listen to God and his words. The ability to listen (that the pope demanded from members of parliament) is the foundation for ecumenical Christianity. Politics and religion are similar in that regard. But unlike coalition governments, unity between different confessions is not easily achieved.The Bishop of Rome has defended his Church against accusations from the German president, the president of the German parliament, and the prime minister of Thuringia. Neither the judicial branch nor politicians should intervene in the internal affairs of the Church, as Benedict pointed out during a speech in the monastery in Erfurt in which Luther lived when he still was a monk. The phrase is separation of church and state, not separation of the church from the state. The rules that apply to one party apply to the other party as well. Indeed, Catholics and Protestants alike should defend themselves against such interference.Which, finally, suggests that the commitment to ecumenical Christianity was more visible than most people think. Representatives of both churches exchanged views, and the pope put the protestant church on eye level during those discussions. Both confessions face the challenge of connecting with their parishes. A theologian from Bonn (Benedict XVI) and a theologian from Wittenberg (Martin Luther) stand side by side. Faith, they both argue, is a question of reason. The opposite of honest faith -- sola fide -- is not rationality, but worldly and commercial enterprise of the Church. The idea that "much helps much" leads the Church astray, Benedict argued. And that, in the best sense of the word, is a classical expression of protestant faith.
Pope Benedict XVI has during his visit to Germany rejected the idea that the Church must have worldly power. What matters are not one's worldly actions but one's faith before God. The pope's mission is the complete separation of church and state.
Pundits expected it, and the protestant church expected it as well. But it never came: The vocal commitment to ecumenical Christianity. Yet it should have been clear that the pope himself personified that commitment. As a theologian who hails from the country of Martin Luther, Joseph Ratzinger is not immune to the influence that his 16th century colleague had on Christianity.
He frequently draws on Luther's dissident thoughts in his sermons and during the speech he gave in Freiburg in Southern Germany. Only through honest faith can we experience God, Luther said. One's actions are less important than one's beliefs. Benedict XVI agrees: Ecclesiastical assemblies, charity work, reflections on the world and on man are useless if the Church fails to put Jesus Christ in the center of its mission.
Luther desired to know "what driveth Christ," and he sought to make that drive the cornerstone of Christian life. The pope thinks similarly: The Church must give up its worldly privileges. Benedict XVI has repeatedly criticized the German church tax that diminishes membership in the community of Christ to a monthly payment. It must de-materialize itself. The consequence, according to the pope, would be an increased commitment to its true mission, uncorrupted by power struggles.
Seen in that light, the rhetoric of Benedict reminds us of Francis of Assisi. The mendicant monk saved the medieval Church -- and the papacy, which was at the time mainly preoccupied with indulgence, whores and intrigue -- with his reforms. Francis reformed the church, just as Luther did. But he also managed to maintain unity with Rome.
Unity is the ultimate glue of the Christian church, and it has since gone missing. The call of dissident organizations like "We Are The Church" are misguided, for they call on Christians around the world to risk breaking off relations with Rome. It must be resisted. The Church is global, its community is upheld by the bishops, who constitute God's people along with all their christened believers. The pope is their primus inter pares. Together with the bishops, he guides the Church forward.
Benedict XVI not only wants to make the Catholic Church less worldly, he also wants to remove it from politics. In that regard he differs significantly from his predecessor John Paul II. Politics and religion, church and state are separate for him. It is no coincidence that he explicitly stressed the separation of church and state as one of the landmark achievements of European history during his speech before the German parliament.
Whether the rescue mission is to be driven by liberal or conservative forces, the pope does not say. Time will tell, and a careful listen to God and his words. The ability to listen (that the pope demanded from members of parliament) is the foundation for ecumenical Christianity. Politics and religion are similar in that regard. But unlike coalition governments, unity between different confessions is not easily achieved.
The Bishop of Rome has defended his Church against accusations from the German president, the president of the German parliament, and the prime minister of Thuringia. Neither the judicial branch nor politicians should intervene in the internal affairs of the Church, as Benedict pointed out during a speech in the monastery in Erfurt in which Luther lived when he still was a monk. The phrase is separation of church and state, not separation of the church from the state. The rules that apply to one party apply to the other party as well. Indeed, Catholics and Protestants alike should defend themselves against such interference.
Which, finally, suggests that the commitment to ecumenical Christianity was more visible than most people think. Representatives of both churches exchanged views, and the pope put the protestant church on eye level during those discussions. Both confessions face the challenge of connecting with their parishes. A theologian from Bonn (Benedict XVI) and a theologian from Wittenberg (Martin Luther) stand side by side. Faith, they both argue, is a question of reason. The opposite of honest faith -- sola fide -- is not rationality, but worldly and commercial enterprise of the Church. The idea that "much helps much" leads the Church astray, Benedict argued. And that, in the best sense of the word, is a classical expression of protestant faith.
The Lutheran Pope
Jan 14 16 7:11 AM
Words that have profoundly affected Roman Catholics, and not just German ones, and that probably will continue to cause discussion and reflection for months to come. The Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister summed up the issues raised by Pope Ratzinger's speech: "Before his third trip to his homeland, Benedict XVI had never put such strong emphasis on the ideal of a Church poor in structures, wealth, power. At the same time, however, he has also insisted on the duty of a vigorous 'public presence' of this same Church. Are the two things compatible?"
Vatican Insider asked church historian Daniele Menozzi, professor at the Scuola Normale of Pisa, where the pope's appeal to a "non-worldly" Church comes from - and what impact could it have on its present and future.What - if any - are the historical precedents of the Pope's appeal? The invitation to the Church to free itself from the "material and political burdens" in order to rediscover the authenticity of her spiritual message, is linked to a very long tradition. Benedict XVI summed up his intervention by recalling the need for a "purification and inner reform" of the Church. Frequently in the bi-millenial history of Catholicism, voices have emerged from within the church community, denouncing a "deformation", and calling for her to return to a purer "form".
To which Church do they wish to "go back" when making these appeals?Typically, these appeals have been based on concrete models of historical reference, in particular the calls have harked back to the "Ecclesiae primitivae forma" (the early Church, ed). In Ratzinger's speech, instead, he makes an analogy between the worldly poverty of the Church and the tribe of Levi. This Old-Testament paradigm is rather vague: it gives the impression of a literary, rhetorical reference more than of a line of effective intervention. The call to return to the origins is a current that has never run out ...The search for a link between the spiritual renewal of the Church and the recovery of its missionary capacity spans many seasons of Church history. Just think of the debates leading to the Gregorian reform of the eleventh century, or the Catholic reform movement that precedes and accompanies the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent, to then become inextricably intertwined with the counter-Reformation's proposals. In more recent times, some members of the current that would later be condemned in 1907 as the modernist heresy - one may recall for instance the novel The Saint, by Fogazzaro - formulated the belief that dialogue with the modern world passed through a spiritualization of the ecclesiastical institution. But perhaps the most immediate precedent is the hope for a "Church of the poor" that a group of Council fathers, in the wake of some aspects of Johannine teaching, launched during Vatican II, going so far as to define elements of structural reform of the ecclesiastical institution.How successful have these impulses been in the past?Every moment has its irreducible specificity. Results have varied but I think you can make two general observations. First, the appeal to spiritualize the Catholic presence in history has been effective when it has been made by the heads of ecclesiastical government. The case of the "Church of the poor" is significant: Paul VI entrusts the study of this theme to a committee that later submitts to him some specific suggestions, but he doesn't welcome their proposal and so it sinks. Second, the success is linked to institutional changes: the missionary thrust of the post-Tridentine Church was founded on establishing religious orders whose initial intent was to reject any worldly inducement, to devote themselves to the salvation of men and the glory of God
For the pope, "history comes to the help of the Church through the various epochs of secularization, which have contributed in an essential way to its purification and internal reform. The secularisations, in fact - whether the expropriation of Church property or the cancellation of privileges or anything like that - every time meant a profound liberation of the Church from worldly forms of life: she is stripped, so to speak, of her earthly riches and goes back to fully embracing her poverty on earth. " Is this recognition a turning point?The Pope's address is ambiguous. On the one hand - while using the term "secularization" in a very surprising way, to indicate also the worldliness of the Church - he is taking, compared to his predecessor, a major step: instead of equating secularization with secularism, and therefore judging it fundamentally antithetical to Catholicism, it is being brought back, as it was in the teaching of Paul VI, to its social and political dimensions, and in this context, reread in a providential key. On the other hand, however, this providentialist interpretation of secularization - a sort of divine intervention in history to purify the Church from imperfections and falls - deprives the phenomenon of its real historical significance, preventing one from grasping that through it, man has conquered, to the detriment of directives given by the Magisterium, the self-determination of institutions of the political community.
The Holy See is engaged in a difficult dialogue with the Lefebvrists who say they want the Church to return to the 'truth' lost by Vatican II. But the history of the Church which they have in mind seems different from that of Ratzinger ... For the schismatic community, the structures that the Church has taken on in the past two centuries in antithesis to the society that emerged from the French Revolution constitute an indispensable part of Catholic tradition. Among these structures there is also recourse to the coercive power of civil law to enforce the practice of truth: their opposition to the right to religious freedom is the most obvious sign of this. In Benedict XVI's view, the Catholic presence in the modern world is possible without a confessional state, but civil law cannot but recognize those rights that belong to man's nature as a divine creature. Differences exist, but they are less profound than might at first appear.
Could the speech at Freiburg be read as a keynote of a 'second phase' of his pontificate?In recent years, Benedict XVI has identified as an aspect of the Church's presence in the contemporary world the construction of a neo-Christianity, in which it is for the Papacy, the custodian and interpreter of natural law, to define the fundamental structures of the human consortium. It does not seem that the appeal to the Church and freeing herself from claims of power entail a revision of his governing program. The very vagueness of the call seems to indicate that he does not intend to take that route. It seems to me, rather, that the Pope wants to encourage believers to operate in the world with complete detachment from worldly things. Of course we cannot underestimate this request to correct deviations and abuses, some of which the Pope himself has denounced. However, this line does not call into question the central claim of Ratzinger's papacy: attributing to the Church the authority to establish, at a universal level, the correct forms of human coexistence. It seems, on the contrary, aimed at strengthening the Church's capacity to attract and take hold, freeing her from those aspects of moral unworthiness of its protagonists who tarnish her image.The Church may be less powerful but Ratzinger is not letting go of his authority
Jan 16 16 10:11 AM
For three centuries after his first appearance, the Grand Inquisitor was portrayed by Protestant and Enlightenment critics alike as a figure of unmitigated evil. It took Dostoyevsky to make him interesting."Know that I, too, was in the wilderness, that I, too, fed upon locusts and roots, that I, too, blessed freedom," is the Inquisitor's reproach to Christ in The Brothers Karamazov. "But I woke up and refused to serve madness." Jesus' madness had been to give men salvation without also giving them the strength to choose it. The Inquisitor, in contrast, had taken away men's freedom, by terror, and thereby ensured their salvation. The price in this neat, heretical solution was paid by the Inquisitor himself. In Dostoyevsky's story, the very process of terrorizing had sapped the Inquisitor's own faith. Once a saintly hermit, he finally found himself unable to retain belief in the doctrine he was imposing. Power had destroyed it.The life and work of Joseph Ratzinger would no doubt have interested Dostoyevsky. Once a radical theologian concerned above all with the liberation offered by Christ, Ratzinger is now the Vatican's chief imposer of theological obedience. Formerly a minor official at the Second Vatican Council and an intellectual disciple of Hans Küng, he is now John Paul II's closest confidant and Küng's judge, in the Western Hemisphere,It was Ratzinger who was behind the demotion of Archbishop Raymond. Hunthausen of Seattle, the firing of Father Charles Curran of Washington's Catholic University, and the 11-month silencing of liberation theologian Friar Leonardo Boff. Ratzinger was also directly or indirectly responsible for the most recent papal positions on in vitro fertilization, homosexuality, liberation theology, and the encyclical on East-West conflict, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. After John Paul II himself, there are few more significant figures in the Catholic Church.Who is he? Six years after Ratzinger's appointment to the Prefecture, we are only beginning to find out. His office—he is prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—explains something. When it was originally created in 1588, it was called the Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition. As Edward Peters points out in his comprehensive survey of the history and mythology of the office, this may not be as damning as it sounds. Its historic role has been both to promote good doctrine and to protect the Church from heresy. Since 1588 it has wielded none of the power its mythologizers have claimed for it. In its supposed heyday—the 15th through 17th centuries—it was, in fact, extremely weak.Set up after inquisitions were already under way in Rome, it was not responsible for the autonomous inquisitions in Spain, Portugal, and Venice, conducted by semi-independent papal appointees and local authorities, (The Spanish Inquisition, for example, was specifically requested by Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain in 1478 and was then incorporated within the Spanish state.) The Holy Office's real power diminished further through the 18th century, when it became an adjunct to the Index, the Vatican's official censor. In 1799 the Inquisition was actually abolished, only to be revived 15 years later with a writ more limited than ever to the papal states.Italian nationalism restrained the Holy Office in the late 19th century. But as liberal, anti-clerical governments in Europe put pressure on independent churches, the attractions of a stronger, defensive link with Rome grew. In response, the Holy Office took on a new vigor. It merged with the Index in 1917 and became the chief theological adviser to the pope, who was now officially infallible, (Ex cathedra statements were pronounced infallible in 1870.) In 1965 the Second Vatican Council abolished the Index but retained and revamped the Holy Office as the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while increasing the autonomy of the various national councils of bishops.It is an ambiguous history, then; and one of the ironies is that it took the 20th century to produce a Roman Inquisition with universal clout. The decline of religious-based national politics has had the effect of strengthening transnational religious institutions. The explosion of Catholicism around the globe in the 20th century has actually increased the need for a more powerful center of doctrine. Joseph Ratzinger has felt few qualms, at least recently, about providing it.Ratzinger grew up the son of a policeman in Hitler's Bavaria. Before becoming the pope's policeman, Ratzinger was a professional theologian. He was ordained in 1954 in the diocese of Munich and became a lecturer in dogmatics at Munster, Tubingen, and Regensburg, and a founder-member of the progressive theological periodical Concilium. An official at the Second Vatican Council and a keen defender of its reforms, he was made cardinal archbishop of Munich in 1977.It was a fitting appointment. His training was rooted in the Bavarian tradition, which is to say, it was heavily influenced by Augustine, Augustine's emphasis on the weakness of fallen man, the necessity for divine grace, a distance from worldliness, and a healthy distrust of human reason and nature are central, of course, to German Protestantism—but to much of German Catholicism as well. Ratzinger, whose dissertation was about Augustine, was no exception. A particular influence was Johann Sailer, a Romantic theologian of the post-Enlightenment Catholic revival in Germany, His mid-19th-century concerns, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, make interesting reading: "externalism, contempt for Christian mysticism, worldliness of the clergy, degradation of the pulpit by the treatment of secular topics, relaxation of ecclesiastical discipline, denial of the primacy of papal jurisdiction, efforts of the State to gain control of the Church, turbulent reforms within the Church, and a one-sided training of the mind in education." Over a century later, it would be difficult to find a more concise summary of Ratzinger's own priorities.The great merit of Aidan Nichols's dense, scholarly study of Ratzinger's theology is that it places Ratzinger in the context and language of this abiding, Germanic Augustinianism, It is an emphasis that manages to cut through the usual, unhelpful categories of left and right, progressive and reactionary, to focus on the arguments of the Church rather than the preoccupations of the world, Ratzinger's central conviction (and it runs from his earliest to his most recent writings) is that men are too weak to generate their own meaning or salvation. Both have to be received. Both, rather, have been received—in a particular historical moment: the incarnation of God.The awe at the spirit of God made flesh in Jesus permeates all Ratzinger's work, and indeed his attitude to theology as such. Theology is the elucidation and deepening of what has already been revealed, rather than the quest to discover what we do not yet know. The model is not the philosopher who receives nothing, but the saint who has received too much—less Descartes than Mary, "who humbly opened herself, like a glass that receives God's dark mystery." That does not mean that revealed truth cannot be deepened, even occasionally by the insights of error. In his Theology of History in Saint Bonaventure Ratzinger writes: "Revelatio refers not to the letter of scripture, but to the understanding of the letter. And that understanding can be increased." But it does mean that the source of all Christian wisdom is God, not man.Self-realization for the Christian comes "not through what he does, but through what he accepts." The New Testament is a "matter of announcing to man the unthinkable, novel, free Act of God, something which cannot be drawn up out of the mental depths of man, because it announces God's unreckonable, gracious decision." In the liturgy, what is distinctive "does not come from what we do but from the fact that something is taking place here that all of us together cannot 'make,' " Ratzinger says at one point to the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori in the conversation published as The Ratzinger Report: "The Church is not our Church, which we could dispose of as we please. She is, rather. His Church."This is the essential basis for Ratzinger's "authoritarianism." He believes in an inalienable truth, wedded to an institution, cemented in a moment of history. The extraordinary nature of revelation suggests that it cannot be tampered with, least of all from below. And the tragic, passive view Ratzinger holds of human nature—more in tune with Lutheranism than with traditional Catholicism—lies behind his radical lack of faith in the goodness of fallen man, and so underpins the severity of his discipline. But the Augustinian notion of grace is also at the core of his "radicalism." The redemption, when received, is of a complete, transcendent, almost mystical nature.The great contrast usually drawn between the young "liberal" Ratzinger and the old "conservative" Ratzinger tends to miss this point. These phases represent two sides of the same Augustinian coin. In his "liberal" period, Ratzinger's inspiration was always a transcendent understanding of divine, a historical grace at work upon the Church. That was the core of his defense of the Second Vatican Council's reappraisal of tradition. As a founder of Concilium, he was a firm champion of the reformed liturgy, the new use of the vernacular, the revived emphasis on scripture, the elevation of the episcopate vis-a-vis the papacy, and communion in both bread and wine. He saw much of this as a cleansing of the historical encumbrances of the 19th and 20th centuries to let in a fresher, purer ecclesiastical air. His enthusiasm, for example, for the Catholic rediscovery of the historical Jesus and of scripture is clear:It breathes the "smell of the earth" of the land of the patriarchs; the unmistakable tone in which the prophets talked. . . . It gives us the voice of Jesus Christ—in the striking Aramaic phrases that were handed down untranslated; we hear him speak his native language; we meet him across the gulf of centuries, as he lived, a man among men.Together with this is a sense of liberation from earthly bonds that a revived Catholicism could generate. In his 1960 Christian Brotherhood, he writes: "The mystery of Christ is the mystery of the removal of barriers-" He refers to the barriers of nationalism, class, and the reluctance of the Church to confront the world, in that order- In his 1968 Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger writes of the timeless gift Christ extends to the world: "After the lance-thrust that ends his earthly life, his existence is completely open; now he is entirely 'for': the beginning of a new definitive community of men with one another."A passion for this liberating, transcendent community explains his otherwise mystifying enthusiasm for so much of modern Catholicism that other Church "conservatives" find distasteful, Ratzinger hails what he sees as the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit in the practice (if not some of the theology) of the revivalist Christianity of the Third World, in the charismatic movement throughout the Church, and in the anti-Marxist, Christian preference for the poor adopted by most priests and laity in South America, Africa, and Asia, He argues for the incorporation of many Third World practices into Western faith. He favors Asian and black music as a new focus for liturgical expression. And Ratzinger describes these developments not as the achievement of men, but as the work of God, These views were expressed again in The Ratzinger Report.Ratzinger's hostility to the politicization of religion—from Marxist liberation theology to the Catholic capitalists of the American right—is also based on his view that being apolitical is Christianity's authentic political stance. With Augustine, he holds that otherworldliness released the "inner freedom which enabled the martyrs to counterpoise the conviction of faith to State authority, the interior power of truth to the external power of earthly force." This does not mean that he advocates complete withdrawal, but rather a stance of opposition to the world, a stance that is necessarily political, but only incidentally so.Hence, for example, his attitude to the 1960s, an attitude that sharply distinguishes him from his political neoconservative acolytes, Ratzinger argues in Church, Ecumenism and Politics that the radical resurrection of concern with the "origin and purpose of the whole" of creation that typified the '60s was essentially a step forward; insofar as it scorned shallow materialism. His serious argument with the '60s is only with its political solution, with Marxism, which he accords a deeper philosophical respect than many of its smug opponents- Ratzinger answers it with the transcendent radicalism of a purified Church.This apolitical Augustinianism is classically reflected in the recent encyclical on East and West. What mattered was not what each bloc had revealed about men in history, nor what prudence might indicate in choosing between the two. What mattered was simply revelation's judgment of the foundation of each: the atheism of the collective East and the materialism of the capitalist West, Politics was seen from the perspective of eternity. Naturally it enraged those who prefer to see eternity from the perspective of politics, William F. Buckley found time to read the New York Times summary and wrote an angry, anti-"moral equivalence" riposte, and (non-Catholic) columnist William Safire's deepest theological argument was to accuse the pope of being a "decade out of date on his geopolitics," In a sense, though, they were right- The politics was crude- It was supposed to be.Otherworldliness, however, carries a decisive risk. It can lead to an alienation from the very world the Church needs to conquer. This other side of the Augustinian coin was the central worry of the Second Vatican Council, Ratzinger's interpretation of the Council's mission of renewal differs from more conventional understandings. Whereas Ratzinger sees the Council as a "recentering" of the Church from the standpoint of transcendent truth (a peculiarly Augustinian approach), many of its actual participants saw it as an opening to the world as it then existed, a learning from the world, an interpretation of divine grace at work through history (essentially a Thomist understanding). It is important, perhaps, that Ratzinger, as a minor official, never participated, as only a bishop could, in the collective spiritual guardianship—and experience—of that event. John Paul II did. The most telling difference between the pope and the prefect is John Paul II's more successful blend of Augustinian otherworldliness and Thomist trust. His admonitions, while increasingly firm, have never lacked the compassion and optimism that ally themselves with a countervailing confidence in God's will working its way through nature. Ratzinger is altogether a more jaundiced figure.By interpreting the Council his way, and by maintaining a continuity between the Augustinianism of his early and later career, Ratzinger rallies a powerful defense of the case that "it is not I who have changed, but others." But he has missed perhaps a central paradox in his own theology. His bleakness, while theologically a way in which the extremity of grace can be radically described, is—once in power—a recipe for authoritarianism. The same view that holds that man is hopeless and needs the mystery of God holds that man is hopeless and needs the discipline of authority. For these reasons, the elevation of Ratzinger to the prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was a particularly fateful decision. The very same theology that could describe the mystery of God, His unknowability, His radical gift of grace, could be used to justify the lack of any trust in the work of the Church below, and the necessity to maintain absolute conformity to the mysterious dictates received from above. What Ratzinger's elevation unleashed—the wild card in Ratzinger's development—was the factor of power. His theology did not change. But its new context was to transform the purity of its intent. The Dostoyevskian ironies are acute, and they are getting sharper. The theologian who stressed the apolitical as Christians' first resort has become an official who has sacrificed theological argument for political coercion and control. The otherworldly cleric has become the first prefect to give an extended, published interview to the international press [The Ratzinger Report). The thinker who wrote above ail about the central conceptions of the faith, of the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Last Things, of the core truths of Christianity, has begun to show signs of a creeping obsession with sex, and concern with the passing phenomena of a secular agenda. ( I do not agree with this analysis. As Head of the CDF Ratzinger essentially advised.but also acted on the agenda, of John Paul II)With Ratzinger’s elevation, the case against him has most often been viewed in the Western press as the case for democracy against authoritarianism in the Church. It is perhaps worth stating that nothing could be further from the truth. The Church is not a democracy and could not possibly be so. A democracy is founded upon the primacy of individual rights, in which the public good—itself the creation of the individuals who debate it—is an entity that may change. The truths of the Church are given, not created, are unchanging, not malleable, are vested in authority, not in individuals. So long as this is the debate between Ratzinger and his critics, Ratzinger deserves to win.Where the argument really starts—and it is a complicated one—is in the scope of Rome's teaching authority, or magisterium. The First Vatican Council's establishment of papal infallibility ascribed to the pope the powers always ascribed to the college of bishops and the pope together: "infallibility in faith and morals." But it did so in extremely prescribed cases: ex cathedra pronouncements, of which there have been two in history, both dealing with uncontroversial doctrines. The scope of Rome's authority, outside these pronouncements (and none of Ratzinger's initiatives have taken this form), is therefore still in some doubt.But even if we assume that Rome has complete authority "in faith and morals" outside of ex cathedra pronouncements, the Church has never authoritatively claimed the right to dictate the particular moral decisions of individuals within the church. There, conscience, under pastoral guidance, has to be left to work. For example, while the Church might say that anger is always wrong, there may be circumstances in which it can be excused, mitigated, or even can lead to some good: the anger directed at a criminal, or at violence, or at oppression. The judgment of these cases must be on an individual basis. So, too, in theology. There is a difference between the rejection of Church doctrine outright and the obedient questioning of the reasoning of doctrine in particular cases. The Church has historically defended this space for those obediently attempting to live Christian lives. This "freedom" does not deny the authority of the Church. It merely recognizes that moral and theological wisdom has to be worked out in individual lives, with their complexities and compromises.Ratzinger the theologian accepts the tension. In his 1975 Principles of Christian Morality, he writes that Christ "linked admission to the Kingdom of God and exclusion from it with fundamental moral decisions, which are consequences intimately related to the way God is conceived." But he has also defended individual space, even to the extent of suggesting that Christians' moral experience can inform Church doctrine. For example, he agrees that the Church's former teaching that sex is solely for procreation has now deepened to an understanding that it is also for personal development. That transition came from the experience of modern Christians in marriage, and from theology itself. Ratzinger has also written that the three major forces for the development of Church doctrine are the Christian and human experience of the Church at large, the work of scholars, and the "watchful attention, listening, and deciding undertaken by the teaching authority," in that order.But Ratzinger’s latest forays suggest, alas, that once in power, he has begun to scorn what he once put at the forefront of the development of the Church: the ordinary moral experience of Christians.Consider three cases. First, the role of women. Not women priests, but women in society. He describes them, in The Ratzinger Report, as the receptacles "of motherhood, of gratitude, of contemplation, of beauty." His challenge to women in the 1980s is to live up to the virtues of the Virgin Mary. In itself, that is hardly objectionable to a Catholic. But what is remarkable is how much is left out. No other avenue of achievement or self-fulfillment is countenanced. The implication is that there is nothing of value for the Christian view of women in the work, creativity, or independence that women in the West now partly enjoy. On the contrary, women have paid the highest price to the new society and its values. . . . What is the woman to do when the roles inscribed in her biology have been denied and perhaps even ridiculed? If her wonderful capacity to give love, help, solace, warmth, solidarity has been replaced by the economistic and trade union mentality of the "profession," by this typical masculine concern?Is Ratzinger really saying that any form of "professional" work is destructive of the "roles inscribed in [female] biology"? And does the massive moral experience of working women, who have also struggled to lead Catholic lives, have nothing to say to this judgment? Is "solace" incompatible with a mother who devotes herself in part to a world other than the family? Is love a capacity necessarily destroyed by work? Has Ratzinger any evidence to support such claims?Second, on homosexuality. The Vatican's 1986 letter—which described gay men and women as victims of an "objective disorder"—was a radical break with all three elements originally discerned by Ratzinger: tradition, scholarship, and the moral experience of the Church. It took even conservatives by surprise. In 1975, for the first time in modernity, the (pre-Ratzinger) Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recognized that there was something called inherent homosexuality. Previously, there had only been homosexual acts, chosen by heterosexual people, which were invariably wrong. (The first condemnation of such acts was not made until 1179, at the Third Lateran Council, which also condemned moneylenders, heretics, Jews, Muslims, and mercenaries.) The Church's new position was that the state of homosexuality was not wrong, since it was involuntary, and sin has to be chosen. What was wrong, rather, was the chosen, genital expression of homosexuality. This may sound casuistic, but there are few other ways to accept the immorality of homosexual activity while showing compassion and understanding for homosexuals who also happen to be made in the image of God. The 1975 document was a model of such casuistic compassion.Ratzinger's letter, in the middle of the AIDS crisis, was noticeable for its extraordinary lack of compassion. Nowhere in the document was it stated, along the lines of 1975, that homosexuality is not voluntarily acquired. Some of its clauses read chillingly like comparable Church documents produced in Europe in the 1930s. In a reference to violence and prejudice against homosexuals, it argued that if correct doctrines were not defended clearly, then "neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground." And its central point was to remove the moral neutrality of the state of homosexuality: "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." What can this possibly mean, except that the condition is morally disordered?The idea that the new perspective "finds support in the more secure findings of the natural sciences" is about as convincing as Ratzinger's obscure references to the "biological" roles of women. The biblical scholarship is also disappointing: the reference to Christ's mention of Sodom in Matthew suggests He was warning the disciples against sodomy, rather than warning the towns to which He sent them against inhospitality. It is hard to avoid the impression, especially given the supreme rigor of Ratzinger's own biblical and theological training, that the document was a political rather than a theological exercise.Third, on the teaching authority of the Church as a whole, Ratzinger has pushed the necessity of precise obedience in a way that calls into question the space normally assigned to personal conscience. In matters of theological orthodoxy, he has attempted to enforce a uniformity that makes no distinction between disobedience and questioning obedience. On this point, the contrast between Ratzinger the policeman and Ratzinger the theologian is particularly sharp. Ratzinger's 1954 study of Augustine noted that Augustine's theology grew out of a polemic against error, adding that this shows that without error "movement of a living, spiritual kind is hardly thinkable," Writing as prefect to Charles Curran on July 25, 1986, he argued that "the faithful must accept not only the infallible magisterium. They are to give the religious submission of intellect and will to the teaching which the supreme pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith and morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act"(my italics).The scope for Church theologians to question the doctrines of the Church is a problematic one. It is a fair concern of Rome that seminarians and lay people should not be misled as to the teachings of the Church by dissenting theologians acting in an authoritative context. But that does not mean that such questionings of doctrine cannot—or should not—take place at all within a Catholic context. Catholic University's compromise in letting Curran retain tenure, but restricting him to teaching on a non-ecclesiastical faculty "in moral theology and/or ethics," strikes a reasonable balance. It is also conceivable that Curran could be maintained on an ecclesiastical faculty as long as in his teaching, he distinguished clearly between his own and the Church's views. What is catastrophic both for the future of the faith and for maintaining the confidence of intelligent, obedient Catholics in the Church is that no questioning should be tolerated at all, Ratzinger's letter even implies that acquiescent silence is no longer enough. This suffocation of reason in the Church carries all the hallmarks of a self-fulfilling strategy.The metamorphosis of Joseph Ratzinger from Augustinian theologian to Augustinian policeman, and finally to policeman, may in part be due to the metamorphosis of the Church itself. The forces of change have been so great in the Church during the past two decades that some form of simple assertion of authority may have a prudential justification. John Paul II, however, has balanced Ratzinger's zeal with a more pragmatic and humane approach. ( n my opinion it was JP II's rigorist approach which fell on the shoulders of Ratzinger - he became the "bad cop" )Together, they have played a "good cop, bad cop" routine with recalcitrant faithful. Ratzinger's great gift to a Church all too easily distracted by the world is to call the faithful back to the fundamentals. But it is difficult not to feel dismayed by the way in which his earlier inspiration has ceded to the dictates of coercion, and his theological distrust of fallen man has translated so easily into disdain for Christians trying to live obediently in modernity. The man who might have guided the Church through reason has resorted to governing by force. In some ways, Ratzinger was his own first victim as Grand Inquisitor. ( I believe he was a victim, a victim of his obedience and loyalty to the job placed on him. In my opinion he is still a victim, for different reasons)Or it may, of course, be that the love of truth is incompatible with the enforcement of truth. That, after all, is Dostoyevsky's half-suggestion. It is certainly at the core of some of the most powerful objections to Catholicism ever made. But Dostoyevsky—and the Church—provide a half-solution. After the Inquisitor rages at Jesus, he waits for a reply: "The old man would have liked Him to say something, however bitter and terrible. But He suddenly approached the old man and kissed him gently on his bloodless, aged lips." That kiss is a simple reminder that Christian truth may be painful, but without love it is also unbearable.
Jan 20 16 9:32 AM
For some, he is a defender of the faith; for others, he is a modern inquisitor.Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 63, widely considered one of the most powerful voices in the Vatican, has been Pope John Paul II's principal lieutenant in matters of faith and morals for the last eight years.As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has led a crackdown on liberal theologians, including the Rev. Charles E. Curran of Catholic University of America, and has issued controversial warnings against homosexuality and in-vitro fertilization.The West German cardinal, who was archbishop of Munich before the Pope summoned him to Rome in 1982, made it plain during a visit to the Philadelphia area this week that he expected the church's internal turbulence to continue."We will have a lot of tension in the church in the next 10 years," he said shortly before speaking Wednesday night at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Lower Merion Township.The cardinal's address was part of a symposium being held at the seminary this week on "The Catholic Priest as Moral Teacher and Guide." The meeting honors the establishment of a Cardinal John Krol Chair of Moral Theology at the seminary.There has been "a certain opposition" to church authority over the last two decades that will continue, Cardinal Ratzinger said.But "the essential unity of the church" cannot be destroyed, said the cardinal, attired in black clerical suit and black loafers, as he spoke with several journalists in the seminary's parlor, a stiffly formal Victorian room lined with large religious paintings.Challenges to Vatican authority in the United States, which reached a high point in 1986, have fallen off, according to the cardinal. In that year, Rome censured Father Curran and stripped Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of some of his power because of practices in his archdiocese considered at odds with doctrine.Now, Cardinal Ratzinger said, laughing, "we have a moment of peace." ( A peace that would soon be shattered)The cardinal said church authority faced a stiff challenge last year in Europe, particularly in West Germany, where the appointment of a conservative prelate as archbishop of Cologne sparked opposition. (Meisner was imposed on Cologne by JP II)"We have seen a formation of European theologians against the Pope - in Belgium, in France, in Spain, Italy," Cardinal Ratzinger said."At the same time, we did not have struggles with American theologians," he said. "I do not know why, but it seems that at the moment, Europe is more unquiet than the United States."Speaking in fluent, German-accented English, the white-haired cardinal said that conflict within the church may be inevitable as Catholics continue their efforts to apply the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The council, a meeting of all the Catholic bishops at the Vatican in several sessions between 1962 and 1965, was summoned by Pope John XXIII to update church practices.Cardinal Ratzinger, who was a theological consultant to German bishops during the council, has long maintained that many Catholics want more change than the council was prepared to allow."Before the council, there was set up a too-limited idea of theological freedom," the cardinal said. "After the council, there was an idea of anarchical freedom. . . . Now, we must learn a realistic idea of theological freedom, and perhaps it is not possible without conflicts - but conflicts realized in a human way, in a Christian way."The cardinal, a university professor before Pope Paul VI took him out of the classroom in 1977 to make him archbishop, does not shy from conflict or controversy.In 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger's office declared Father Curran, then a professor at the Washington university, unfit to teach Catholic theology.Father Curran had been one of the church's most vocal American dissenters for two decades, disagreeing with church teaching in several areas of sexual morality. He was ousted from Catholic University after the Vatican censure.Cardinal Ratzinger declined to speculate on how the Vatican would respond if a Catholic college or university offered Father Curran a job.That question would have to be handled by another Vatican agency, the Congregation for Catholic Education, he said. "We (at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) have done our work, and so we have not come to terms with this matter," he said.The cardinal also angered homosexuals in 1986 when he wrote a letter to the world's Catholic bishops describing homosexuality as "an objective disorder." The letter declared that homosexuals were "bringing enormous pressure to bear on the church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity."In 1987, the cardinal's office issued a 40-page letter condemning unconventional methods of human reproduction, including in-vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood.Liberal theologians have long complained that Cardinal Ratzinger's agency limits the freedom of theologians to explore the relationship between God and humanity.Choosing his words with professorial precision, the cardinal conceded that theologians needed freedom but insisted that they must exercise their freedom responsibly."We must avoid anarchical ideas about theological freedom," the cardinal said. " . . . I think we should recognize, one has the right to say, 'I don't accept the Trinity, I do not accept the divinity of Christ, and so on,' but he should not say, 'This is Catholic doctrine.' "In spite of the prospect of more dissent, the cardinal said he saw some bright spots for the church in the changing world.In Eastern Europe, the wave of democratic reforms has brought "new hopes for the church," he said.In the West, there is "a new generation in the church," Catholics less consumed with the conflicts of the 1960s."There is a new desire for authentic relationship with Christ, so I think that we will have a . . . fruitful encounter between two new generations in the West and the East," he said.He conceded that the church in Eastern Europe, seemingly free from the threat of communism, may face temptations to dissent from church teaching. But he said that memories of the persecution that helped keep Catholics in Eastern Europe loyal to the church would not quickly fade.Moral guidance is important not just for the well-being of the church but ''for the survival of humanity," the cardinal said.The turmoil in Eastern Europe shows the need for moral guidance, he said. And ecological questions demand a moral response from the church."With our ecological problems, we begin to understand that nature has its own moral message to give us," he said. Catholic moral tradition provides a useful tool for understanding that message because of the church's emphasis on ''the strong link between creation and redemption, between the Creator and the Redeemer, between nature and God's law."Making the church's voice heard in a pluralistic society is difficult but necessary, he said."I think the church . . . as the voice of Christ has, especially in this moment of history . . . an important mission to give moral guidance to its members and to humanity," he said." . . . We have an important mission to make present and to mediate the great heritage of Christian moral tradition for our times and for the future of humanity."
Jan 23 16 5:15 AM
Apr 26 16 7:44 AM
By consensus, while emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was a great teaching pontiff, ecclesiastical governance on his watch often left something to be desired. Space does not permit a full listing of meltdowns and crises, but here are a few highlights:The appointment in 2007, followed by the swift fall from grace, of a new Archbishop of Warsaw who had an ambiguous relationship with the Soviet-era secret police.The eerily similar appointment in 2009 of an Austrian bishop who had suggested Hurricane Katrina was a punishment for the wickedness of New Orleans, and who was likewise gone within days.Lifting the excommunications of four traditionalist Catholic bishops in 2009, including one who denied that the Nazis used gas chambers, with little apparent regard for how that move would be perceived.The surreal “Boffo case” from 2010, pivoting on the former editor of the official newspaper of the Italian bishops. (If you don’t know the story, it would take too long to explain, but trust me … Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t make this stuff up.)The Vatileaks scandal of 2011-12, which featured revelations of financial corruption and cronyism, and which ended with the conviction and pardon of the pope’s own former butler for stealing confidential documents.Less spectacularly, there was a chronic sense during the Benedict years that the pope’s administrative team, led by Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was occasionally out of its depth. Decisions were delayed, and when they came, the logic for how things shook out was sometimes opaque.Frustration over a perceived “management deficit” helped pave the way for election of a new pope in March 2013, with a reputation as someone who could clean out the stables and get the Vatican under control. (Whether or not that’s actually happening today is an utterly different conversation.)Australia’s George Pell, today Pope Francis’ finance chief, was among those calling for a house-cleaning three years ago.“I think the governance is done by most of the people around the pope, and that wasn’t always done brilliantly,” he said after Benedict’s resignation. “I’m not breaking any ground there — this is said very commonly.”Today, however, marks the 11th anniversary of Benedict’s election to the papacy on April 19, 2005, and to mark the occasion, I want to suggest that over the long run, Benedict will be judged not by his failures but rather the historic reform processes he set in motion.Centuries from now, Pope Benedict may well be remembered as a “Great Reformer.” The following are three reasons why. (Regrettably this is probably wishful thinking)Financial IntegrityAlthough Pope Francis has launched an ambitious program of financial reform, it’s important to remember that the long-delayed work of bringing the Vatican into the 21st century vis-à-vis financial administration actually began under Benedict. (Yes, but it was not Benedict who brought it to fruition, and he allowed Bertome to meddle when he ought to have been controlled or fired)Perhaps the single most important move Benedict made was to choose, for the first time, to subject the Vatican to independent secular review in the form of the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering agency, Moneyval.Never before had the Vatican opened its financial and legal systems to this sort of external, independent review, with the results made public, and to say the least, the decision encountered some internal Vatican blowback.In centuries past, had secular authorities shown up to conduct such a review, they would have been fought off tooth and nail in the name of defending the autonomy and sovereignty of the papacy. For Moneyval, the red carpet was rolled out instead.Benedict was also the pope who created a new financial watchdog unit inside the Vatican, the Financial Information Authority, and hired a serious professional to lead it: A Swiss lawyer named René Brülhart, who for the previous 10 years had led anti-money-laundering efforts in the tiny European principality of Liechtenstein.In so doing, Benedict gave definitive answers to two nagging questions:Does the Vatican owe anyone “outside the family” an explanation of how it handles its finances?Does secular expertise on money management have a place in the Holy See?With those two pillars in place, the rest can be figured out.Anti-Abuse EffortsWhen the abuse scandals in the United States broke in 2002, reaction in the Vatican was divided between what one might loosely call the “reformers” and the “deniers.” The fault lines broke down in terms of these debates:Is the crisis largely a media- and lawyer-driven frenzy, or is it a real cancer?Should the church cooperate with civil authorities, or is that surrendering the autonomy the church has fought titanic battles over the centuries to defend?Should the church embrace the use of psychology in screening candidates for the priesthood, or is that smuggling in a secular mentality in place of traditional spiritual principles of formation?Should the church support aggressive programs of abuse prevention and detection, or does that risk “sexualizing” children along the lines of secular sex education?Is the crisis truly a global phenomenon, or is it the fruit of a “moral panic” largely restricted to the West?Should the Vatican sign off on “zero-tolerance” policies, or does that rupture the paternal relationship that’s supposed to exist between a bishop and his priests?When the American scandals erupted under St. John Paul II, the deniers had control in the Vatican and the reformers were an embattled minority. By the end of Benedict’s papacy, the situation was the exact reverse: The deniers hadn’t gone away, but they’d been driven underground.While he was still at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who pushed for new rules to weed out abuser priests in the Pope John Paul II years and who wrote those rules into law as pope. (True, but Cardinal Ratzinger was also filmed slapping a well-known TV anchor who asked him about Maciel. Not his finest hour)It was also Ratzinger who unleashed his top prosectuor, then-Msgr. Charles Scicluna, on Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado despite the cleric’s powerful network of Vatican allies, and who sentenced Maciel to a life of “prayer and penance” in 2006. (But Maciel was never brought to trial and he was never defrocked - as he surely ought to have been. He was a wicked specimen. His punishment was a mild one compared to his crimes.)Later, Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims of sex abuse, the first pope to apologize for the crisis in his own name, and the first pope to dedicate an entire document to the abuse crisis in his 2010 letter to the Catholics of Ireland. (But also in 2010 he allowed his aides to get away with delivering the infamous "idle gossip" speech on Easter Sunday. Benedict was never in control of his "aides" some of whom were, in my opinion, disastrous appointments)Benedict laicized almost 400 priests in 2011 and 2012 alone for reasons related to sex abuse, which is almost 1 in every 1,000 Catholic priests in the world flushed out of the system in just two years. ( But not Maciel, and Cardinal Law was allowed to stay in Rome in pomp and splendour)To be sure, there was plenty of work left undone at the end of Benedict’s term, but the broad direction had been set. ( Setting the direction and walking down the path are two different things.)Papal SimplificationAlthough Pope Francis is rightly celebrated for his humility and simplicity, the truth is that Benedict XVI contributed significantly to the “demystification” of the papal office well before Francis stepped onto the scene. ( That is a stretch - especially after 2007 when he seemed to be less and less in conrol)Here’s an example. Shortly after his election, Francis returned to the Casa del Clero in Rome where he’d been staying prior to the conclave in order to pack his own bag and pay his own bill, an episode that became part of his “man of the people” image.Yet Benedict did much the same thing 11 years ago, returning to his apartment to pack up and then going around to thank the nuns who lived in the building for being good neighbors. In other words, Benedict was every bit as humble as his successor – arguably, in some ways, more so – even if that wasn’t always clear from his public image. ( Why did that image of him emerge? Who was in control of his image? Not Benedict!)Benedict also humanized the papacy with his capacity to admit fault and to ask for help. ( I would disagree. In my opinion one of Benedict's main problems is the precise opposite - the inability to admit he has been wrong. His letter to bishops was already a consequence of the chaotic situation his aides had been allowed to create, but he would not replace them.His 2009 letter to the bishops of the world after the Holocaust-denying traditionalist debacle is one of the most heart-felt, plaintive documents written by a papal hand you’ll ever see, and in it Benedict candidly acknowledged that he and his Vatican team had dropped the ball – not on the substance of the decision, which he defended, but on the way it was handled and communicated.( What is seen in this letter is Benedict protecting his chosen "team" - which was anything but a team. Nobody stood up and took responsibility for the debacle. They hid behind Benedict. Instead of grovelling and suggesting that he too was to blame, Benedict ought to have dismissed those responsible for the mess. Management was never his strong point - he couldn't even insist on his own retirement arrangements. Someone controlled him even to that extent and he was reduced to giving a personal interview to FAZ to explain that he wanted to be called Father Benedict. Unfortunately his "aide" has other ideas and ensures everyone uses the grand papal title and bends the knee)Finally, of course, there’s the fact that Benedict delivered the single most stunning act of papal humility in at least the last 500 years: His Feb. 11, 2013, decision to resign. (That is what he will be remembered for, not his "reforms".)Pope Francis has said that in the wake of that act, resignation has now become an “institution” rather than a historical anomaly. That doesn’t even mean every future papacy will end in resignation, because some no doubt will still die in office, either as a conscious choice or simply by dint of circumstance.Nevertheless, Benedict clearly answered the question of whether a pope even could resign in relatively normal historical circumstances – in other words, when not facing schism or invading armies – with a resounding “yes,” thereby, in ecclesiological terms, moving the papacy a huge step closer to being reinserted within the College of Bishops.No doubt, Francis and whoever follows him will continue to build on these precedents. The fact always will remain, however, that the precedents were set by the “Great Reformer.”
Jul 1 16 3:29 PM
Professor Ratzinger was my mentor and dissertation director from 1972-74. Later, when he was the ‘cardinal protector’ of Casa Balthasar in Rome, we on the board of directors met with him at least yearly. And, of course, Ignatius Press was and is the primary publisher of his books. This relationship has been one of the great blessings of my life.Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict’s intellectual brilliance and gentle demeanor became well known to all soon after his election to the papacy. People suddenly realized that the Panzerkardinal, the Vatican Enforcer, the humorless, predatory doctrinal watchdog was in fact none of these things. Quite the opposite in fact.It would take a full-length biography to record all that is good and holy about this exemplary man of the Church. I would like to pay tribute to him by listing his defects. It won’t take long.He is sometimes a poor judge of character. (Accepting me as a doctoral student should be proof enough.) There are some reasons for this: Being so deeply good himself, he can be naïve about others. He sees the best in everyone and takes them at their word. He is never defensive or self-protective. And there is simply no trace of jealousy or ambition in the man.He is ill-suited to leadership in a fast-paced, competitive commercial enterprise. And when sectors of the Church—even at the highest levels—become tainted with this spirit of the world, he is not the one to ‘clean house’.That’s it.
Nov 10 16 4:59 AM
The drill instructor surveyed the new recruits. He was expected to turn this pathetic rabble into an efficient fighting force for the Führer. “Who’s holding out for longest,” he bellowed, “you or me?” There was an uncomfortable silence. Then the smallest soldier in the line – a weedy and bookish figure – stepped forward and said: “Us!”That defiant young man became arguably the most influential Christian theologian of our age and served for eight years as the spiritual leader of a billion souls. He has never lost what he calls “the desire for contradiction”: a willingness to rebel against the dictates of the age, alone if necessary. Joseph Ratzinger contra mundum.The drill instructor anecdote is just one of many astoundingly fresh and revealing stories in Last Testament. The book is based on interviews with Benedict XVI conducted before and after his resignation by German journalist Peter Seewald. This is therefore a historic document in which for the first time in centuries – perhaps ever – a retired pope evaluates both his own pontificate and his successor’s.When the book was first announced it didn’t sound all that promising. Seewald and Benedict XVI had already collaborated on three book-length interviews: Salt of the Earth, God and the World and Light of the World. As Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, put it at the new work’s launch: “These questions were in a field that seemed to be already harvested.” Yet somehow Seewald has gathered in perhaps the finest harvest yet.For more than a decade I have read everything I can about Benedict XVI, but I was amazed by the revelations in this new book. I never knew, for example, that Benedict’s mother was illegitimate, that he held his first meetings as Vatican doctrinal chief in Latin (his Italian was shaky) and that he has long been totally blind in his left eye (a fact that surprised even Gänswein).Seewald teases out some wonderful vignettes. Benedict recalls going to a party at Ernst Bloch’s house with “an Arab” who offered the Marxist philosopher his first ever drag on a hookah (“He couldn’t handle it,” he comments). He also describes how he took a choppy boat trip to Capri while serving as a theological adviser to Cardinal Frings at the Second Vatican Council. “We all vomited, even the cardinal,” he says, clearly cherishing the memory.But Seewald is no mere biographer. He has a larger agenda: to bury the image of Benedict XVI as an aloof reactionary whose reign ended in dismal failure and replace it with one in which the German pope is the true prophet of our age. The “much-maligned Panzerkardinal ”, he writes in the foreword, is actually “one of the most significant popes ever, the modern world’s Doctor of the Church”. As an admirer of Benedict, I agree. But Seewald’s revisionism occasionally goes too far. He argues, for instance, that at the Vatican between 2005 and 2013 “liturgical extravagance was reduced” – which doesn’t quite ring true.The book also unleashes heavy weaponry in what we might call “the Ratzinger wars” in Germany: a decades-long controversy about the direction of one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential local churches. Benedict deplores his homeland’s “established and well-paid Catholicism” and says, wistfully, that “certain people in Germany have always tried to bring me down”. He says that they latched on to “the stupid Williamson case” – when he lifted the excommunication of the English SSPX bishop without realising he was a Holocaust denier – and attacked him right up to his resignation.Seewald pushes Benedict to deny Hans Küng’s theory that he was a progressive theologian until student protests in 1968 turned him into an embittered conservative who pulled strings to silence Küng. Whether this will be enough to displace the Küng narrative, echoed and amplified for years by the global media, remains to be seen.Benedict’s own account of his pontificate is touchingly modest. He says it was “unreasonable” that he should have been elected at 78 and that he took the name Benedict because “I could not be a John Paul III … I had a different sort of charisma, or rather a non-charisma”.Charisma aside, he served the Church to the best of his considerable abilities, while being undermined by both bungling colleagues and sworn enemies. Now living in a monastic setting, he says that he looks forward to heaven, where he will stand “before God, and before the saints, and before friends and those who weren’t friends”.The book’s title, Last Testament, is one rendering of the German Letzte Gespräche. Another might be “Latest Conversations”. While the book does have a valedictory feel, you can’t help thinking, as you finish it, that Benedict XVI has a lot more left to say to the world.
Nov 12 16 5:16 AM
Why did you not name yourself John Paul III?I felt that would be inappropriate, because a standard had been set there which I couldn’t match. I could not be a John Paul III. I was a different character, cut from a different cloth; I had a different sort of charisma, or rather a non-charisma.Suddenly: Christ’s vicar on earth. What inner change was going on there?Yes, there was the thought: no, I need still more help from him. One knows: I really am not that. But if he puts the yoke on my shoulders, he must also help me bear it.You spoke of the cardinals’ ballot as the falling of a “guillotine”. Did you regret that later?No, the feeling was just like that, a guillotine.For over two decades you were the closest collaborator of a pope, and for half your life you have concerned yourself theologically with the Petrine Primacy. Was there anything in particular that you were resolved not to do [after your election to the papacy]?There was primarily the positive resolution that I wanted to put God and faith in the centre. It was also important to me to put Holy Scripture in the foreground. I was a man who came from a theological background, and I knew that my strength, if I have one, is to proclaim the faith positively. So above all I wanted to teach things from the fullness of Holy Scripture and Tradition.To ask again: it is not only the things one does which are important, sometimes the things one does not do are yet more significant.What should I say? I knew this would be no long pontificate. That I couldn’t see any long-term projects through, and there’d be no kind of spectacular initiatives. Especially nothing like calling a new Council; but I could strengthen the synodal element more, and I wanted to do that.Is it not also a problem if the follower of Peter the fisherman is a professor? In Jesus’s selection of the twelve not a single scribe was called.That’s right, but there have been popes who were scholars, from Leo the Great and Gregory the Great in the beginning – two very great lights – then Innocent III, and so on. So it is not unusual either. Of course a pope does not have to be a theological scholar, absolutely not. But he must have some cultivation of the intellect. He must know what the currents of the day are, the issues, the tasks, and in this sense, although being a professor is certainly not an ideal occupation for the episcopal or papal chair, it is not an impossibility either.OK, one only realises afterwards that a professor is accused of approaching the contexts of life too theoretically, which is a danger when it comes to action. But he is gradually schooled in dealing with practical matters by the people around him, and this enables him to become something different; less theoretical and more capable of grasping practical tasks.The former nuncio, Karl Josef Rauber, whom you already knew from the Council, said about you: “Joseph Ratzinger is a scholar of absolute integrity, but he is only interested in researching and writing.”[Laughs] No, of course that’s not right. That wouldn’t work. You just have to do lots of practical things, and they bring joy. Visiting parishes, speaking to people, giving catechesis, leading all kinds of meetings. The parish visits are an especially lovely component; they make you happy. I was never a professor only. A priest cannot be just a professor by any means. If he were, he would be neglecting his calling. The priestly commission always involves some pastoral care, some liturgy too, as well as conversations. Maybe I have thought too much and written too much, that might well be. But it would not be the truth to say that that’s all I’ve done.As Pope, were you a reformer, a preserver, or as your critics say, a failure?I cannot see myself as a failure. I did my eight years in service. There were many difficulties in my time, if one thinks of the paedophile scandal, the stupid Williamson case, or even just VatiLeaks. But on the whole it was indeed also a time in which many people newly found the faith and a great positive movement was there.Were you happy then, being Pope?[Laughs] Well, I would say so; I knew that I am carried, so I am grateful for many beautiful experiences. But it was always a burden too, of course.~Your bishop motto comes to mind: “Co-worker of the truth”. How did you actually come to that?Like this: I had for a long time somewhat excluded truth, because it seemed to be too great. The claim: “We have the truth!” is something which no one had the courage to say, so even in theology we had largely eliminated the concept of truth. In these years of struggle, the 1970s, it became clear to me: if we omit the truth, what do we do anything for? So truth must be involved.Indeed, we cannot say “I have the truth”, but the truth has us, it touches us. And we try to let ourselves be guided by this touch. Then this phrase from John 3 crossed my mind, that we are “co-workers of the truth”. One can work with the truth, because the truth is person. One can let truth in, try to provide the truth with worth. That seemed to me finally to be the very definition of the profession of a theologian; that he, when he has been touched by this truth, when truth has caught sight of him, is now ready to let it take him into service, to work on it and for it.
Nov 16 16 3:25 PM
It seems impolite to say so, given Pope Benedict XVI’s chastened retreat to the shadows of the Vatican, back in 2013, but his papacy was a failed one. For nearly eight years, he led the Catholic Church in the broad collapse of its moral authority, from the crisis of criminal priests to the further alienation of women to the blatant dysfunction of the Church’s own bureaucracy. Still, there is one sense in which Benedict succeeded. After a career spent railing against relativism, he relativized the world’s last divine-right office, becoming the first Pope since 1415 to resign and giving his successor, Francis, the sway that he so astonishingly exploits today. At the end, the self-styled Pope Emeritus, ( Ratzinger did not choose this title but he did not have the strength to insist on the one he wanted - Father Benedict. Whoever coerced him into being Pope Emeritus has a lot to answer for because it has caused many problems still dressed in his white robes, lifted off from the Vatican in a white helicopter, which took him to Castel Gandolfo, the papal vacation palace on a lake outside Rome. He assumed the quiet, cloistered existence of a retired prelate. Today, he has broken his silence with “Last Testament,” a late-in-life attempt at personal reckoning that amounts, instead, to a reiteration of the ethical detachment that undercut him from the start.The new book is drawn from a series of interviews with the German journalist Peter Seewald. Throughout it, the former Pope displays an astounding emotional and religious indifference. If I reiterate a litany here of Benedict’s well-known controversies—if I seem to be rehashing hackneyed debates—it is only because he himself revisits them in this book, but always to defend, never to reëxamine, much less to regret. Seewald gets to the root of Benedict’s problems about a third of the way through the book, when he asks him why his voluminous writings seldom address Nazism. “Well, the eyes are always looking to the future,” Benedict replies. “And it was not specifically my topic.” Really? The Pope Emeritus, né Joseph Ratzinger, came of age wearing the uniform of a Wehrmacht soldier; he was conscripted at the age of seventeen, served in an anti-aircraft unit, deserted shortly before Germany’s surrender, and was captured by Allied forces, then briefly held as a P.O.W. His assessment of the Nazi years should, as a result, have special gravity, yet he blithely says that such a reckoning is “not my task.” That distancing reply—from a German who feels no need to look back—meshes with his impulse to absolve Catholic authorities of any failure during the Holocaust.Benedict remembers the war-era Church as a “place of resistance,” and in important ways that was true. (Pius XII, the Pope at the time, may have been secretly supportive of an early plot to overthrow Hitler.) In “Last Testament,” Benedict lingers on the figure of Michael von Faulhaber, the longtime Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, who ordained young Ratzinger to the priesthood, in 1951. Faulhaber often receives praise for a series of Advent sermons he gave in 1933, which the Vatican has characterized as an exemplary “rejection of the Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda.” But Faulhaber’s real task, as he himself made clear, was to defend not living Jewish persons but Jewish texts—namely, the Old Testament, which Hitler-friendly Christians wanted expunged from the Bible. Faulhaber’s own secretary insisted that, in speaking of ancient Israel, the cardinal “had not taken a position with regard to the Jewish question of today.” In response to a priest who wanted the Church to forthrightly condemn the Nazis’ persecutions, Faulhaber wrote, “The Jews can help themselves. Why should the Jews expect help from the Church?” Benedict, in looking back, explains that some Catholics, including his own father, wanted more from the cardinal. But his present assessment of Faulhaber and other prelates is wholly uncritical. For Benedict, the defense of Jews against the genocide was, and continues to be, a moral mandate of no significance to Catholicism. If there was official Church resistance, it was only for the Church itself.The same aloofness marks the rest of Benedict’s account, from his start as a young-turk theologian to the tumultuous years of his pontificate. At the Second Vatican Council, he was party to the liberal overthrow of the entrenched bureaucracy of the Curia. But no sooner did the Council end, in 1965, than Ratzinger aligned himself with those insisting that no substantial change—what he calls elsewhere “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”—had taken place. Subsequently, as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger was “God’s Rottweiler,” the bête noir of liberal Catholicism, cracking down on liberation theology, nuns regarded as “radical feminists,” and the “intrinsic moral evil” of homosexuality. Amazingly, he writes, about his time as Cardinal Prefect, “I deliberately never wrote any of the documents of the office myself, so that my opinion does not surface; otherwise I would be attempting to disseminate and enforce my own private theology.” As if anticipating the reader’s inevitably incredulous reaction, he adds, “Of course, I was a co-worker and did some critical redrafting.”And yet Ratzinger’s theology was evident in the many fierce promulgations that were issued above his signature. In 1995, he went beyond Pope John Paul II’s rejection of women’s ordination to declare that the prohibition was “set forth infallibly,” a doctrinal solemnizing that has tied the hands of the otherwise liberalizing Pope Francis, who issued his own reiteration of the ban early this month. The Cardinal Prefect even scowled at John Paul II for organizing the first World Day of Prayer for Peace, in 1986, in which more than a hundred and fifty religious leaders were invited to Assisi. “This cannot be the model!” Ratzinger told a newspaper reporter at the time. Now he tells Seewald, with surprising equanimity, that John Paul “knew that I took a slightly different line.”Once he was Pope, Ratzinger’s different line led him, in 2009, to lift the excommunication of the traditionalist cleric Richard Williamson, a notorious Holocaust denier, sparking a controversy he now dismisses as “stupid (this was a very unfortunate description of those events and Ratzinger also never places blame on anyone by name, preferring to mention only Ecclesia Dei) and to denigrate Islam just after the fifth anniversary of 9/11, repeating a medieval slur that led to worldwide protests by Muslims, and about which Benedict now seems cavalier. (“I just found it very interesting to bring up this part of a five-hundred-year-old dialogue for discussion,” he says.) Benedict should get credit for defrocking four hundred sexually abusive priests during his papacy, although, again showing a present failure to appreciate the moral scale of past mistakes, he describes to Seewald his dread of “premature intervention” in abuse cases and the need to “go about it slowly and cautiously.” More to the point, he seems utterly disconnected from the consequences of his instruction, as Cardinal Prefect in 2001—just as the Boston Globe was laying bare the scandal—that priestly sex-abuse cases “are subject to the pontifical secret,” a ruling that prompted bishops to quietly bring such matters to the Vatican, not to civil authorities. That, of course, was the bishops’ essential failure.The very end of Pope Benedict’s pontificate was marked by a storm of controversies, from the Vatileaks scandal, perpetrated by his personal valet, to revelations of grievous Vatican Bank corruptions to insinuations about the influence of a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican bureaucracy to whispers about rebellions against the Pope from within the Curia itself. At a time when the captain of an Italian cruise liner ran his vessel aground and jumped ship, Benedict was widely seen as the captain of a vessel (the bark of St. Peter?) dangerously adrift. But that is not his assessment. “That I was, so to speak, the problem for the Church, this was not and is not my view,” he tells Seewald. About the crises that all but destroyed the moral authority of Roman Catholicism, he calmly says, “One has to reckon with such things in human beings. I am not aware of any failures on my part.”That statement lays bare Ratzinger’s ethical obtuseness—as if “such things in human beings” did not apply to him. The Pope Emeritus lives his life at such a level of abstraction, ever shoring up the bulwarks of institution and doctrine, that he consistently misses the real meaning of the human experiences that challenge both. “The important thing is that the faith endures today,” he says. “I see this as the central task. All the rest is just administrative issues, which it was not necessary to unleash during my tenure.” It is as though the renegade captain were saying, from the safety of land, that the ship is intact, even if, because of certain administrative issues, it founders on the rocks.When Benedict resigned from the papacy, some wondered about the state of his health. Was he headed for a long, demoralizing physical decline of the sort that made his predecessor what he calls “a martyr to the sufferings of the world”? Obviously not, given his apparent good health for a man of eighty-nine. Benedict now says that he secretly decided to resign in August, 2012, although he did not actually do so until February of the following year. “Were you in a depression?” Seewald asks him in the book. “Not a depression, no, but things weren’t going well for me,” he replies.The true meaning of Benedict’s resignation did not become clear until the unrelentingly positive spirit of his successor began to show itself. He pays full tribute to Francis, expressing how “beautiful and encouraging” it is that the Church is “alive and full of new possibilities.” But he seems not to grasp that the Francis phenomenon runs far deeper than the Argentine’s personal charisma. Benedict is one of those who perceive Francis as a maestro of style, not altering the substance of belief, when, in fact, style and substance are inseparable. Benedict’s approach—not mainly his reticence, but his detachment—stamped his era with belief removed from real life, a moral perception so partial as to be immoral, with drastic consequences for the Church and all whom the Church was called to serve. Francis is anything but detached, and his perceptions are rooted in a visceral preference for experience over ideology. While the white-robed Pope Emeritus retreated to the seclusion of Castel Gandolfo, Pope Francis, only this month, opened it to the public.That there is something tragic in Benedict’s story does not mitigate its negative weight, but it is impossible to read “Last Testament” without feeling sorry for a man whose life has been so branded by fear. Of course, entering manhood when and where he did, he came by fear naturally, but he never shook it. He was not afraid for himself, perhaps—he seems a man of personal courage—but he was terrified for the institution he served and over which he came to preside. It was this fear that, across decades, sparked the peculiar ruthlessness of his ecclesiastical boundary protection. When, as Pope, Benedict presided over the great Eucharistic celebrations in St. Peter’s Square, he made it a point always to firmly place the sacred host on the outstretched tongues of the faithful—this despite the liturgical change of Vatican II that called for the host to be placed in the communicants’ cupped hands. When Seewald asks him why, Benedict explains that among “the many people on St. Peter’s Square” there were surely those who might, as he puts it, “pocket the Host” and take it away. For what, a papal souvenir? How far that seems from casting bread upon the waters, or from passing bread around a table at which misfits and trouble-makers are welcome, or, for that matter, from prizing the bread, as the Mass does, for its having been broken.
Nov 21 16 1:48 AM
While retired Pope Benedict XVI said organization and governance are not his strong suits, he also said, "I am unable to see myself as a failure."In a book-length interview with the German author Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict said that when he resigned he had the "peace of someone who had overcome difficulty" and "could tranquilly pass the helm to the one who came next."The new book, "Last Testament," will be released in English by Bloomsbury in November. The German and Italian editions were set for release on Sept. 9, but some excerpts were published on Sept. 8 by the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.Pope Benedict insisted once again that he was not pressured by anyone or any event to resign and he did not feel he was running away from any problem."My weak point perhaps is a lack of resolve in governing and making decisions," he said. "Here, in reality, I am more a professor, one who reflects and meditates on spiritual questions. Practical governance was not my forte and this certainly was a weakness."Pope Francis, on the other hand, "is a man of practical reform," the retired pope said. His personality and experience as a Jesuit provincial and archbishop have enabled him to take practical organizational steps.The retired pope, who is 89, said he had no inkling that then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would be elected his successor; "no one expected him.""When I first heard his name, I was unsure," he said. "But when I saw how he spoke with God and with people, I truly was content. And happy."Pope Benedict said it made no impression on him that the brand new pope chose to appear on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica without wearing the ermine-lined red mozzetta or cape. "What did touch me, though, was that even before going out onto the loggia, he tried to phone me."Electing the first Jesuit pope and the first Latin American pope, the College of Cardinals showed that "the church is moving, dynamic, open, with the prospect of new developments before it," he said. "What is beautiful and encouraging is that even in our day things that no one expected happen and they demonstrate that the church is alive and brimming with new possibilities."Seewald also asked Pope Benedict about reports that during his pontificate there was a so-called "gay lobby" in the Curia and the group protected certain priests by threatening to blackmail others.The retired pope replied that a commission of three cardinals he had named to investigate a major leak of reserved documents and conduct an administrative review of Vatican offices and procedures identified "a small group of four, perhaps five persons," which a few Vatican officials and the media later would refer to as the "gay lobby.""We dissolved it," Pope Benedict said.The retired pope, who has had a pacemaker since 1997 and can no longer see out of his left eye, told Seewald that preparing for death is part of his daily routine. It's not a matter of getting his earthly affairs in order, he said, "but of preparing to pass the ultimate examination before God."
Nov 30 16 10:04 PM
I’ve written my share of critical appraisals of Joseph Ratzinger, both when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and during his surprisingly fitful years as Benedict XVI. His rigidity, theologically and even physically, seemed almost stereotypically Germanic, as I suppose did his widely acknowledged analytical brilliance. His resignation from the papacy was startling, but also revealed a measure of genuine humility and an abiding trust in God’s promises to his church. In many ways, he seemed the very model of a certain kind of starchy but fiercely dedicated priest-theologian and churchman. You didn’t have to agree with him to admire his devotion or respect his considerable talents as a theologian, thinker, and writer.James Carroll, the novelist and frequent commentator on things Catholic (his most recent book is Christ Actually: Reimagining Faith in the Modern Age), thinks Ratzinger a frankly sinister figure. Last Testament, a series of interviews the pope emeritus gave to the German journalist Peter Seewald, confirmed Carroll in his belief in Ratzinger’s pernicious “ethical detachment,” “astounding emotional and religious indifference,” “a moral perception so partial as to be immoral, with drastic consequences for the church.”Carroll’s critique of Ratzinger’s theological conservatism is predictable enough. The soft-spoken prelate’s instincts were “always to defend, never to reexamine, much less regret” his own actions or church teachings. (In this he has a point. As Pope, Ratzinger never could bring himself to admit mistakes or to correct unfortunate appointments - and a number of his appointments were most unfortunate)As head of the CDF, Ratzinger was a notorious scold of those unquestionable goods: liberal Catholicism, liberation theology, women religious, feminism, and any rethinking of Catholic sexual morality. Carroll complains that Ratzinger was so retrograde he even questioned John Paul II’s interfaith efforts, despite the fact that some of these seemed—and not only to Ratzinger—to have more theatrical than theological value. Worse, Carroll writes, was Ratzinger’s cautious approach to getting rid of priests who had abused children. Carroll dismisses Ratzinger’s concerns about procedural justice for the accused more or less out of hand. And yet the last time I looked, a presumption of innocence was still a liberal value.Ratzinger was conscripted into the German army at seventeen near the end of World War II. One wonders how any of us should be judged by the choices made for us when we were seventeen. But in Carroll’s eyes, Ratzinger’s time in the German military places a special responsibility on him to condemn the church’s failures during the Holocaust. It is true that like other Germans of his generation, Ratzinger has been reluctant to do that, but the church’s failures in that regard, though real and deplorable, are easily caricatured. Carroll admits that having lived through the war as a teenager, the future pope was understandably “branded by fear,” but thinks that is no excuse for his theological timidity and alleged moral myopia. Those experiences and that fear, Carroll writes, made Ratzinger into a tenacious opponent of change in the church, compelling him to “ruthlessly” protect its boundaries. Hence the cliché: “God’s Rottweiler.” In short, Ratzinger is judged to have lived his “life at such a level of abstraction, ever shoring up the bulwarks of institution and doctrine, that he consistently misses the real meaning of the human experiences that challenge both.” But the challenge “human experiences” present to institutions and doctrines is never straightforward. The embrace of some human experiences will build up the church; others are likely to tear it down. Rarely is it immediately clear which is which. “Human experiences,” after all, are what have created institutions and doctrines in the first place, and history tells us that humans are easily cast adrift without them. In the light of the recent presidential election, shoring up institutions and “doctrines” would seem to be just as important as resolving the more personal conflicts Carroll touches on. How, not whether, “human experience” is to be weighed against the demands of supposedly calcified “doctrine” is the more difficult question, and one I suspect Ratzinger has thought about as deeply as Carroll. Religions don’t just respond to human needs; they make demands. Being held morally accountable is also a human need, and the demands made on us as parents, workers, citizens, and Catholics—or even bishops—are often the most humanizing of all.As a gifted writer himself—and a theologically literate one—Carroll might be expected to appreciate Ratzinger’s gifts as a theological writer of uncommon power and lucidity. Yet that aspect of Ratzinger’s “moral perception” is ignored. Rather, what is most striking about Carroll’s depiction of Ratzinger and the church is how it is pitched to satisfy every prejudice his largely liberal, secular New Yorker readership presumably has about Catholicism. The sexual abuse of children and adolescents by priests is of course highlighted, but without nuance or context. The recent revelations about sexual abuse in prestigious prep schools, at the BBC, or in every conceivable athletic coaching venue would only clutter up the formulaic indictment. Nor does Carroll try to complicate the picture of what is at stake in internal church disputes. Nowhere does he suggest that, despite the church’s undoubted failings, defenders of tradition like Ratzinger might actually feel a responsibility to protect and hand on a faith millions of men and women around the globe cherish. For Carroll and his audience, the institutional church is simply an authoritarian bogeyman, an enduring source of anti-Semitism, a corrupt patriarchy, an anachronism. Except for Pope Francis, of course. In the ascendency of Francis, Carroll believes, we see that “style and substance are inseparable.” Francis’s “unrelentingly positive spirit,” rather than his dour predecessor’s admonitions, will save the church. The possibility that we might need both admonitions and a positive spirit doesn’t seem to have occurred to Carroll. I do agree with Carroll about one thing. Style and substance are inseparable, and in his pinched and ungenerous portrait of Ratzinger, there is about as much “positive spirit” as there is in a condemnation handed down by the CDF.
Jan 18 17 6:14 AM
.. Cardinal Levada, 80, the former archbishop of San Francisco who retired as prefect of the CDF in 2012, offered his comments during a wide-ranging Register interview on Jan. 9 at his residence on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California. The conversation touched on his decades of service to the Church as a theologian, bishop and prefect of the CDF, and he also discussed the legacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI...During his years as prefect of the CDF during Pope Benedict’s pontificate, Cardinal Levada was also responsible for overseeing the resolution of clergy sexual-abuse cases and would present the requests for laicization of priests credibly accused of such crimes during his weekly meetings with the Pope.At present, once an accusation of sexual abuse involving a minor is leveled against a priest, his bishop and others conduct a preliminary investigation to establish whether the allegation has “the semblance of truth.”If it does, the case is immediately referred to the CDF, which decides whether the CDF will handle it or send it back to the bishop. The CDF also decides whether there will be trial or an administrative procedure, which usually involves less complex cases.“The experience that the CDF now has in the implementation of the motu proprio would favor the fact that it continues to do this,” said Cardinal Levada.Over the years, the CDF has also established the proper disciplinary actions to be taken in such cases, “with the participation of highly qualified canonists working and teaching in Rome.” While there is general uniformity in imposing penalties, individual cases are also scrutinized, with “the gravity of scandal and the problem of recidivism” taken into consideration. Further, he noted that the congregation has “gained vast experience in how to handle the experience of different countries and the interface with legal and police authorities.”Cardinal Levada praised the Holy See’s effort to make the protection of minors and vulnerable adults the “gold standard” of the Church across the globe, but he acknowledged that even within the Curia “there still were those who do not understand the value of the delicate — often difficult — measures needed to insure the protection of minors from sexual abuse, including penalties for those guilty of such abuse.”“Not everyone was on board, but they understood Pope Benedict’s position. I was very clear about that in talks I gave and in working with various congregations of which I was a member,” he said.A California native who was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Levada received a doctorate in fundamental and dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University.As a young theology instructor at St. John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (1970-1976), he discovered one of Father Joseph Ratzinger’s seminal works, Introduction to Christianity, and quickly added it to the syllabus for the course, a decision that marked his immediate respect for the German theologian, who would later choose him as his successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Subsequently, from 1976 to 1982, Father Levada served as an official of the CDF and continued to teach theology part time at the Gregorian. After he had served as a CDF official for a number of years in the early 1980s, he was thrilled to learn that Pope John Paul II had appointed the German theologian, then archbishop of Munich, as the new prefect of the CDF.From the beginning, Father Levada was struck by Cardinal Ratzinger’s collegiality, humility and brilliance. “When he was prefect, he came into our working group, rolled up his sleeves — figuratively speaking. He listened, then summed up the discussion, and it was exactly right.“He had such a great mind, and a synthetic mind, to be able to listen to people and then propose a consensus about some specific action or formulation of a doctrinal truth,” Cardinal Levada remembered.After serving under Cardinal Ratzinger for one year, Father Levada returned to the United States and was appointed to a series of high-profile episcopal posts, including archbishop of Portland, Oregon, and then archbishop of San Francisco from 1995 to 2005. While he was archbishop of Portland, Pope John Paul announced plans for the new Catechism of the Catholic Church and named Cardinal Ratzinger the chairman of the commission that would prepare a series of drafts of the Catechism. Archbishop Levada was one of seven bishops from around the world invited by Cardinal Ratzinger to join the editorial committee.“For six years, I worked closely with him on the Catechism,” Cardinal Levada recalled. “That really had a central impact on my ministry and my life. It was such a great blessing to have so much of the doctrinal confusion resolved in a specific and unifying manner by the formulation of the truths of the faith in a way that was not hostile or polemical.”Once the Catechism was published in 1992, Archbishop Levada sought to promote its use in Catholic schools and CCD programs, seminaries and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.“This was something Cardinal Ratzinger very much appreciated and found supportive of his efforts and those of the congregation,” he noted. “One of the key things on his mind when he was elected pope was to use the Catechism in an effective way in the teaching of the faith.”After Cardinal Ratzinger’s election as Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Levada traveled to Rome to offer his congratulations. During their conversation, “Pope Benedict said, ‘Listen, Your Excellency. I have something I want to say to you.’” The American archbishop stopped talking and was flabbergasted when the Pope asked him to be the prefect of the CDF. “I was astonished. I said, ‘I am not a great theologian.’”Later, though, as Cardinal Levada reflected on his appointment, he better understood the Holy Father’s thinking.“He is a great theologian; and now he is Pope, and he doesn’t need a great theologian as prefect. He needs someone who knows the congregation — its personnel and procedures — who speaks Italian and who has had experience dealing with the sex-abuse crisis,” the cardinal reasoned.As prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Levada met weekly with Pope Benedict for about an hour.“To have the Pope as your immediate superior, who had your same job, you might think he would micromanage, but there was none of that in his approach,” he said.Cardinal Levada submitted his resignation as prefect in 2012 at age 76, though he remained engaged in the work of numerous congregations and various papal commissions.Pope Benedict’s decision to renounce his papal office came as a shock to Cardinal Levada, who was in California when he heard the news. Since then, however, he has come to appreciate the enormous importance of the pope emeritus’ decision to resign his office and live out his retirement on the grounds of the Vatican.Pope Benedict’s resignation will now be an important part of his legacy, he predicted. It means that “someone who receives the votes from the cardinals in the conclave does not have to be concerned about ‘What will happen if I am sick or have a stroke, or cannot fulfill my duties as pope?’ That has been resolved by Pope Benedict’s decision to resign.”The Pope’s decision to live on the grounds of the Vatican and devote himself to a life of prayer for the Church and his successor, he added, need not be the only path for a retired pontiff, but it does address potential issues that could generate tensions within the Church.“It is a useful thing for us to see how he now continues a certain Petrine ministry of prayer and sacrifice on behalf of his successor,” the cardinal said. “He wanted to make sure he would never be viewed as a rival of his successor. There is no question that he is praying for his successor.”Asked to comment on Pope Emeritus Benedict’s legacy, Cardinal Levada acknowledged the German Pope’s many achievements and drew attention in particular to his towering contribution as a homilist.“Part of his extraordinary legacy is his homilies: his understanding of the liturgy and the way Scripture and the liturgical text can be applied and need to be applied in the homily for a feast-day celebration,” he said.“He has given some of the most extraordinary homilies, and as the collections of those homilies are translated and come out in English, it will be a great part of his legacy for the Church in the U.S.”Cardinal Levada also praised Benedict’s gifts as a writer who valued clarity of expression and who effectively mined spiritually powerful scriptural and liturgical images.“You can trace his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love) to the seminal ideas of his book Introduction to Christianity and how we envision God,” noted Cardinal Levada.“God is a relationship. God is love. The relationship between Father, Son and Spirit is fundamentally a spiritual relationship of love, and that is the fundamental reality of creation.”“These are dramatically important insights he offered to a technological age that wants to solidify everything according to a scientific pattern,” he concluded.For Pope Benedict, then, the Holy Trinity “becomes a kind of poetic inspiration for all his work,” Cardinal Levada said. “At the base of everything is God, as Father, Son and Spirit, three divine Persons in one nature, a relationship of love.”
Feb 9 17 1:22 PM
When reading Last Testament, the autobiography (written with Peter Seewald) of Pope Benedict XVI, I was intrigued by the discrepancy between my image of Joseph Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith (CDF) and the person revealed in these interviews.I had imagined him as a tall, severe man, served by a richly resourced bureaucracy, and on top of all deviations from true faith and practice throughout the world. A man who played a persistent and methodical political hand in all aspects of church policy.My image of the man changed considerably after he was elected Pope — he was manifestly short and frail, and seemed poorly served by his Curia. It has been further challenged by these interviews given to the German journalist Seewald.In them he speaks of his life, his motivations, his limitations, and the circumstances of some controversial events and decisions. The man and his actions appear as more ordinary and less adamantine than I had once imagined.Benedict would have been well served by a more searching interviewer. Seewald's adulation reminded me of a football fan talking with a club legend: 'Tell us about that game against the Tigers when you took them apart after half time and showed what drongoes they are.' In his responses Benedict constantly has to minimise his own exaggerated influence and acknowledge the disparaged virtues of his opponents.The man who emerges is a modest person of deep faith, fed by a scholarly reading of the Catholic tradition. He wanted its resources to enliven the faith and practice of the church. This was the program of enrichment rather than change that he understood the Second Vatican Council to have undertaken.But in much of the theological thinking and practice that followed the Council he saw embodied a program of change that was unfaithful to Catholic tradition.In his writing and his office he commended a deep understanding of faith and combatted the deviations he saw in many political theologies, in reductive understandings of Jesus Christ and of the Catholic priesthood, and in other accommodations of faith to the ethos of the secularist world. "His approach was constantly that of the scholar who read texts closely himself and respected critics of his own texts only if they gave them an equally close reading."He emphasises the continuity in his outlook, claiming persuasively that his views and actions were not influenced by such historical events as the student revolts of the 1960s or by political conflicts in the Vatican. He worked harmoniously with John Paul II whom he greatly admired, and as Prefect of the Congregation he operated within the responsibilities and regulations that bound it.The need to revise regulations in the light of experience limited the capacity of the Church to respond appropriately and expeditiously to the sexual abuse scandal, but he points to what was achieved. His approach was constantly that of the scholar who read texts closely himself and respected critics of his own texts only if they gave them an equally close reading.The only traces of anger he displays in the book occur when he discusses his difficulties with elements in the German church. He clearly believed them motivated by the desire to discredit him.Although not the last word about Joseph Ratzinger's life, Last Testament offers a persuasive account of its continuities. It shows poignantly the sacrifice he made in leaving a scholar's life when asked to serve first as Archbishop of Munich and later as Prefect of the CDF.In the latter role he commended the richness of the Catholic tradition, criticised what he saw as narrow or distorted views of it, and called various movements and people to account. But he showed no empathy for the people whose lives were affected by its investigations. And in many cases his officials failed to read the texts they criticised with the close and objective attention he would have demanded of his students.His desire to commend the full Catholic faith in the face of its counterfeits has always been central in the Catholic tradition. But the opposition he claims between the intention of Vatican II to draw on the Catholic tradition to enrich the faith and life of the contemporary church and the later interpretation of the Council seems overstated. He downplays the desire of the Council to read the contemporary world in a way that would illuminate faith. That implies a messy process in which ambiguities would be expected and the weeds perhaps better left till harvest time.He saw the central drama of our day as the struggle between living Christian faith and secularism. If so, the battle has been conceded by the Catholic leaders whose lives have discredited the living faith. But Benedict's successor has also shown persuasively that a more crucial opposition lies between living faith and the greed that dominates economic settings to the misery and the consequent closure to God of so many people.The inflated image I once had of Cardinal Ratzinger, and that many Catholics have of cardinals and other authority figures, was shaped by fear. Fear hands over to the human beings behind the image a power they do not possess. Conversations always turn to them and inhibit the free and constructive living of faith. In helping to demystify such images Last Testament serves us well.
Feb 12 17 8:19 AM
Four years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, or abdication — debate swirled around the question of what the appropriate English word was. “Renuntiare” was the Latin verb in his announcement, which he read aloud to a meeting of cardinals: He renounced (“relinquished” might be a better translation) the ministry of the bishop of Rome.Every bishop has three functions: to sanctify, to teach, and to govern. Benedict aced the first two but flunked the third: That’s the popular assessment. In fairness to him, remember that the Vatican is a nest of perpetual dissension, full of the pope’s allies and enemies and officials affiliated with third-party movements, as it were. One view is that Benedict inherited an especially fractious Roman Curia and that the battle lines that had formed during the pontificate of John Paul II remained largely in place after his death in 2005: If you had wanted to bring down John Paul, you wanted to bring down Benedict. The scholar-pope that was Joseph Ratzinger appears to have had little appetite or aptitude for politics. At age 85, he might have concluded that he was unlikely to reinvent himself as Machiavelli’s Prince. Fill in here some speculation about VatiLeaks, the St. Gallen Mafia, and the infamously shady Vatican Bank. Add the curious information that about a month before Benedict announced that he was stepping down, the Italian government prohibited the nation’s banks from doing business with the Holy See. The Vatican Museums were suddenly unable to take payment by plastic. Perhaps the challenging circumstances in which Benedict found himself were not all that different from those that had beset popes for centuries — but younger popes. By February 2013, Benedict was the fourth-oldest man ever to hold the office. Moreover, John Paul, who had experience in the theater, had enlarged the definition of the papacy: It was now, among other things, a stage on which the Holy Father could use his presence and charisma to preach and bring souls to Christ. The burden of the public’s expectation that Benedict, too, would be a mediagenic rock star must have grown heavier as he grew older. The tradition that the pope serves for life becomes less feasible as people live longer, taking their time to cool down as they prepare to pass through the veil and cross to the other side. Our forefathers were more likely to be sent rushing through it headlong as they fell to sudden illness while still near the height of their mental powers. Benedict established a modern precedent that some of his successors blessed with great longevity might find it prudent to follow. Benedict was a liturgical pope, removing impediments to the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass and advocating its reintegration into the life of the Church. Catholic liturgy, or public prayer, is the prime manifestation of the Church’s reason for being: If you think that, you are liable to rank Benedict as the most consequential pope since the Second Vatican Council. If you consider liturgy an ornament, an aesthetic nicety subordinate to doctrine, ecclesiastical leadership, or the influence that the successor of Saint Peter has often aspired to exert among the princes of this world, you might tend to see Benedict as having been distracted by lower-order business, while Francis is probably your idea of a pope who gets it. Even if you disagree with Francis’s aims, you have to admire him for knowing how to play the game — if, that is, your view of the papacy is that it’s primarily a political institution. In a fundamental sense, Francis’s pontificate recalls the days when the notion that the papacy is invested with temporal power was openly celebrated. It no longer is, at least formally. Paul VI gave up the tiara in 1963, and 15 years later John Paul II finally put an end to the sedia gestatoria, the chair on which popes had been carried aloft, bobbing along on the shoulders of their footmen. Francis would reject the symbolism as anachronistic, but he embraces the underlying premise that the pope is an important player on the stage of world politics. Benedict might appreciate the symbolism, given his love for tradition and antiquity, but his aversion to the underlying premise was obvious, sometimes painfully so Benedict has retired to an ascetic life in the Vatican Gardens, where he spends his days in quiet, praying for the Church, which is troubled. He no longer teaches or governs it. He continues to sanctify it. Godspeed to him.
Apr 17 17 12:45 AM
On April 18, 2005, two days after he had just celebrated his 78th birthday, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the homily Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice to the College of Cardinals gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. As Dean of the College of Cardinals, it was Ratzinger’s responsibility to highlight to his brother cardinals some spiritual yardsticks that could guide their discernment as they entered into conclave to elect Peter’s Successor. While the buzz word of Ratzinger’s masterful homily became his denunciation of what he styled the “dictatorship of relativism,” the central nexus of Ratzinger’s homily, I believe, lay elsewhere. He was not a prophet of doom unleashing canons of denunciation on culture, but a lover who was eager to share the love of his life, Jesus Christ, because he was convinced that encountering Jesus of Nazareth was a more liberating and joyful experience than atheistic secularism could offer. In other words, the central nexus of Ratzinger’s homily was an invitation into a friendship with Jesus Christ.Commenting on the Gospel text from John, “I no longer speak of you as slaves…. Instead, I call you friends” (Jn 15: 15), Ratzinger identifies two essential qualities regarding friendship with Jesus Christ: Firstly, there are no secrets between friends, evidenced by Christ entrusting the body of his Church into the hands of weak mortals, in this context, those charged with the solemn responsibility of electing the Bishop of Rome. Christ has made known to them the knowledge of God. He has made known to them everything he has learnt from his Father. Above all, he has entrusted the mysteries, the sacramental economy into their hands. We speak in his name, “This is my Body”; “I absolve you from your sins,” etc. Because the Lord has made us his friends, we have been invited into his power, into his relationship with the Father, so that from this encounter and intimacy, we become active agents of bringing about God’s liberating love to our world that is so much in need of God’s love, and yet often unconscious of this need.The second reading that Ratzinger gives to friendship with Jesus is the communion of wills: idem velle — idem nolle, same likes, and same dislikes: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15: 14). To be a friend of Jesus is to allow one’s discernment and consciousness to be shaped by Jesus Christ. It is to love what Jesus loves. It is to strive to live daily God’s will. I cannot be a friend of Jesus if my choices, preferences and likes contradict the manifest and revealed will of Jesus. For Ratzinger therefore, I am a friend of Jesus if I am completely open and transparent with Jesus, and daily seek to live a Christ-like life.As Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger developed this theme of friendship with Jesus Christ especially in his homilies at priestly ordinations in which he presided as Bishop of Rome. To be a friend of Jesus Christ invites one into a greater intimacy of knowledge and communion, for friendship demands intimacy and knowledge. Father Benedict’s new ministry of prayer on behalf of the whole Church certainly mirrors to us his fondness and intimacy with Jesus of Nazareth, the love of Benedict’s life.To be a friend of Jesus Christ as seen in the life of Benedict XVI, clearly has an ecclesial dimension. How could it be otherwise in Joseph Ratzinger! As Benedict himself said in his Chrism Mass Homily in 2008, “being friends with Jesus is par excellence always friendship with his followers. We can be friends of Jesus only in communion with the whole Christ, with the Head and with the Body; in the vigorous vine of the Church to which the Lord gives life.” Friendship with Jesus Christ is friendship with the Church of Jesus Christ, because owing to the intrinsic link between the Church and Christ, the community of the Church is not an accidental product of time that could perhaps have emerged in its concreteness in a later time that was unrelated to Christ.Friendship with Jesus Christ likewise implies modelling one’s life after the hypostatic union of Christ, not primarily in terms of the union between Jesus’ humanity and divinity as taught by Council of Ephesus in 431, but in the sense of the identification of mission and person in Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, person and mission coincide, to the extent that to be a friend of Christ is to radically orient one’s life in a pragmatic, existential manner that is caught up in the never completely discernable transcendence that defines and shapes the openness with God, with Christ as the model of mission and person. In large part, Benedict’s deep sense of the symbolic, of a “disposable” anthropology is built on the conviction that his life is simply a standing for Another, a “representative” of Another, a being-in-reference to Another, a symbolic intercommunication meant to keep the window of the world open to the refreshing and life-giving breeze of God.Because Benedict believes that mission cannot be severed from person, what mattered was not his own person as Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger. He had responded to the call of the Lord as a priest, and the consequence of that response was to cease to live for himself. Like his mentor, Augustine of Hippo, Benedict’s fruitful priestly life was a search for the face of his friend, Jesus Christ, as he himself wrote in the introduction into his trilogy on Jesus – a classic that will be with the Church for ages to come. And still following Augustine, Benedict, as is evident from his Last Testament, found himself, in finding Jesus. It became clear to this Son of Bavaria, with the passage of time, that he was not the only one searching, but Jesus was searching for him as well, even antecedent to Benedict’s conscious search for the Lord. Benedict discerned an aprioriness of love which his friend, Jesus, had for him, a realization that led him to see love as the very being of God.With Augustine, his theological and spiritual master, Benedict discerned his life as a gift of love, and he was certain that God’s love will never abandon him, since God had fashioned everything in measure, weight, and number (Wis 11:20). The search for God, for the face of the love of his life, became for Joseph Ratzinger the bedrock of genuine anthropology. Christology, as a systematic treatment of the person and work of Jesus, was not his intention, as Benedict forcefully wrote in the foreword to the second volume of his trilogy on Jesus. The reason was simple: Christology, notwithstanding the gains made by the historical-critical method, is often subjected to a sterile demythologization and conceptualization-sounding verbalism in which Jesus of Nazareth becomes someone left in the past, perhaps in stacks of university libraries.Benedict’s sole desire was not a systematization of Jesus, but to make his friend known and loved, because he had arrived at the certainty that the brokenness that was plaguing the lives of so many post-modern men and women was a desperate cry for help that could only be met by the loving encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. To know Jesus of Nazareth was to enter into the open future of God that is transformative of the present. It was not mere coincidence that when Benedict visited his homeland, his theme for his apostolic visit to Germany was: Where there is God, there is a Future! The subtle implication could not be ignored. Where there is no God, perhaps there is no future!When Joseph Ratzinger found himself in finding Jesus of Nazareth what did he see? We can dare a response to this question by looking into his spiritual memoirs, his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth, which should be seen as the unmistakable public testament of Ratzinger’s long friendship with Jesus. Clearly at the evening of his earthly life, Ratzinger, like the Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel, felt the greatest good he could do for the world was to invite the village of the world to come to the well of Jesus and drink, so that we will never be thirsty again. The alternative is to settle for the mediocre, the minimal, and lesser waters away from Christ; that is, the shallow waters of egoism whereby life is lived for the narrow vision of the self. Standing by Jacob’s well, we suddenly realize that it is not the well that is deep and us having no cistern to draw from the well. The real well is Jesus, and the water he gives to quench our thirst is the friendship with him. Little wonder that the Samaritans begged him to stay longer in their town!To get a better appreciation of what Joseph Ratzinger’s life-long search had found, we must turn to the second volume of Jesus of Nazareth. In the foreword, Ratzinger writes that it is “only in this second volume do we encounter the decisive sayings and events of Jesus’ life (…) I hope that I have been granted an insight into the figure of our Lord that can be helpful to all readers who seek to encounter Jesus and to believe in him.” For a man who has always read into the fact that his birth took place on Holy Saturday, a symbolic sign of the Church that though longing for the light and hope of the Risen Lord, is not yet there, Easter for Benedict is the real defining moment of his quest for his friend, Jesus of Nazareth. His friend is the Risen One! This is the quintessential Ratzingerian characterization of Jesus of Nazareth. Why? Because hope in the present and for the future is borne from the Risen One, and without hope, the human being has nothing to live for, and life becomes a meaningless, boring routine. The Risen One is the central theological metaphor for Joseph Ratzinger because it is about hope and the future that informs, humanizes and divinizes the present.This is significant because Joseph Ratzinger is a thorough Augustinian who believes in a broken human nature, a broken world, in which the battle between the two loves of the City of God and the City of men and women is a tangible, unending reality. With the eyes of Easter, Ratzinger is able to diagnose the cure for the malady of what Pascal trenchantly named as diversion and indifference, that not only is eroding the humanity of men and women, but also depriving us of the meaning and joy of life, to the extent that men and women now live with little or no sense of the future.As we mark the ninetieth year of Father Benedict’s birth that begins Easter Sunday, in gratitude to God for the unique gift of this man, this priest, this bishop, this genius of a mind, this unassuming, meek and shy friend of Jesus Christ, it is important to still pay attention to what this friend of Jesus Christ is telling us about his friend: “Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out into an entirely new form of life, into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming, but lies beyond it—a life that opens up a new dimension of human existence—an “evolutionary leap.” In Jesus’ Resurrection, a new possibility of human existence is attained that affects everyone and that opens up a future, a new kind of future, for mankind. Christ’s Resurrection is either a universal event, or it is nothing (1 Cor. 15:16, 20).And only if we understand it as a universal event, as the opening of a new dimension of human existence, are we on the way toward any kind of correct understanding of the New Testament Resurrection testimony. Jesus has not entered normal human life like Lazarus and the others whom Jesus raised from the dead. “He has entered upon a different life, a new life—he has entered the vast breadth of God himself, and it is from there that he reveals himself to his followers.”Finally, we now know what Benedict found in finding Jesus: A “new kind of life”; a vast “breadth of God himself”! Jesus has not kept this “new life” from his friend Ratzinger precisely because there are no secrets between friends, and Ratzinger, by submitting his will to Jesus, entered into the same likes and dislikes of his friend, Jesus the Nazarene. With immense gratitude and uplifted hearts, we thank you, Father Benedict, for your eloquent communication of this “new kind of life” to us. Vergelt’s Gott, Father Benedict!
Apr 19 17 2:03 PM
The momentous occasions of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s election to the See of Peter twelve years ago today – April 19, 2005 - and his courageous resignation from that office on February 11, 2013 – stand as landmark moments in the life of the Catholic Church and in the life of the world. Pope Benedict was pigeonholed from the beginning as the “conservative” pope. For eight years on the chair of Peter, he turned to Scripture far more than doctrine, making connections between the early Christians and people of our time struggling to live their faith. He tackled contemporary social and political issues by emphasizing a few main principles: that human rights rest on human dignity, that people come before profits, that the right to life is an ancient measure of humanity and not just a Catholic teaching, and that efforts to exclude God from civil affairs are corroding modern society. For Benedict, Christianity is an encounter with beauty, the possibility of a more authentic, more exciting life. His mantra was about friendship with Jesus and with God.Benedict set the stage for the age of the New Evangelization by focusing in on three basics. His first three encyclicals examined the three cardinal virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. His first three books focused on the center of the Catholic Faith: Jesus Christ. This great teaching pope lectured every Wednesday on issues like the catechesis, the Fathers of the Church, the Saints, the Doctors of the Church, the Psalms and prayer. In October 2013, he held a synod on the New Evangelization and in his opening speech declared "The Church exists to evangelize!" Pope Benedict brilliantly emphasized the need for intense theological life, constant prayer and quiet contemplation which would naturally give way to good moral living, a commitment to others, and a life of charity and justice.As I look back over the eight years of his Petrine Ministry, I am grateful for the special moments I spent in his presence. I met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and later Pope Benedict XVI many times. I was with him in Rome, Germany, Australia, the United States and Spain on his unforgettable papal pastoral visits. I served as the English language media attaché at two Synods of Bishops – 2008 and 2012 – where we had the privilege of being with Benedict for days on end in the Synod Hall in Rome.When I was with Pope Benedict in Cologne for his first World Youth Day in August 2005, he exclaimed to the throngs of young Christians and the curious mixed in: "The Church can be criticized, because it contains both grain and weeds, but it is actually consoling to realize that there are weeds in the Church. In this way, despite all our defects, we can still hope to be counted among the disciples of Jesus, who came to call sinners."If any pope dealt with the weeds among the wheat during his pontificate, it was Benedict XVI. He called sin and evil by their right names, and invited people to become friends with Jesus Christ. He faced head-on scandals and was unafraid to speak about them; he admitted errors made under his watch; he reached out to schismatics and experienced rejection of his efforts for unity; he extended peace branches to the great religions of the world unafraid to name the things that divide us and also the great hopes that unite us. He walked among kings and princes but never lost the common touch.On this date of April 19 – the anniversary of his election to the See of Peter – let us give thanks to God for this “humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” Many feel that in order to highlight the positive aspects of the “Franciscan” era we now experience, they must describe in negative terms the pontificate of Pope Benedict. That is not only absurd, but it is also indicates blindness, deafness and ignorance to what this great man accomplished. Comparisons between Francis and his predecessor are inevitable, and it’s no secret that Pope Francis is more appealing to the crowds… the huge masses that continue to throng the Vatican to catch glimpse of the first Pope from the New World. There is a shift in tone under Francis in what could be described as a "moderate" or “pastoral” direction and a real concern for those on the peripheries of society and the Church.Let us not forget that many of the reforms now underway under Pope Francis’ leadership actually began on Benedict's watch, especially in two chronic sources of scandal for the church: money and sex abuse. I am convinced that if today we are basking in Pope Francis’ light, we must forever be grateful to Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI who has made Francis possible for the Church and the world. We owe Benedict immense gratitude.The FarewellHaving had the privilege of serving as one of the spokespersons for the Vatican during the momentous papal transition of 2013, I witnessed everything up close, and emotions were very high at various moments. One of the most touching moments of that Roman experience took place on February 28, the last day of Benedict’s pontificate. His carefully orchestrated departure from the Apostolic Palace and the Vatican captured the heart and mind of the world. The touching farewell from his co-workers on that crisp, Italian afternoon, the brief helicopter flight to Castel Gandolfo, his final words as Pope, reminding us that he would become “a pilgrim” in this final stage of his life, moved the world. There were no dry eyes in Rome that evening. I was sad to witness this incredible leave-taking. I grieved because I knew deep down inside that this great Church leader, teacher, a real “doctor” of the faith had been very poorly served by some of his closest collaborators during his papacy.St. John Paul II taught us the profound lesson of suffering and death with dignity. Joseph Ratzinger taught us the meaning of sweet surrender- of not clinging to power and the throne, of prestige, tradition and privilege for their own sakes. Pope Benedict taught us what it means to serve the Lord with gladness, humility and joy. He was for us, Joseph, our brother - the one that many refused to accept in the beginning, but in the end, recognized and embraced as a beloved brother.During my German language studies in Pope Benedict’s Bavarian homeland, I learned the wonderful expression “Vergelt’s Gott!” It is much more than a mere “Danke” or “thanks” but really means, “May God repay you or reward you!” As I look back over his Petrine Ministry and conscious of his frail frame and ever joyful demeanor as he celebrated 90 years on April 16, I say,“Vergelt’s Gott, Heiliger Vater!” The Church and the world will never be the same because of what you have done for us!
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